October 27, 2017

Let’s Talk About Privacy, Our Data and The Internet

Sometimes, amongst the spam and press releases, really interesting things find their way into my inbox. One of those things was an email about a new pop-up shop called The Glass Room which is a not-for-profit launch from Mozilla in the form of a disruptive tech store with nothing for sale. Instead of selling gadgets, it challenges you to reconsider the technologies you use every day, how much they reveal about you, and what choices you can make online. I’m super interested in tech, privacy and our online lives, so I stole a few minutes of Mary Ellen Muckerman’s time (the VP of Brand Strategy at Mozilla) to ask her some questions about The Glass Room and online privacy.

What do you love about working in tech?

I am Mozilla’s VP of Brand Strategy, which means I get to play a part in how Mozilla tells our story to the world. Mozilla is a unique technology not-for-profit — we’re a combination of staff, volunteers and passionate Internet advocates united in our commitment to keep the web healthy: easy to access, safe to use, and empowering for everyone, everywhere. Working in technology is a gift. I’m around creative and innovative people everyday who are building products like Firefox and exploring new frontiers like open source voice databases.

What made you realise someone needed to start talking about our digital footprints in an engaging way?

The idea of a digital footprint is so intangible for most people. You start to talk about topics like privacy and security and most people’s eyes glaze over. But as we’re spending more and more time online, we’re becoming less aware of what happens with the data generated from every click, swipe and like. And it seems like you can’t look at the news without learning about a new data breach at a major company. So at Mozilla, we’ve been working on ways to make the intangible ideas around privacy and security more tangible through real life experiences like The Glass Room.

“You start to talk about topics like privacy and security and most people’s eyes glaze over.”

 What can we do to feel slightly more in control of our privacy online?

Everyone should have their own personal privacy policy that helps the make decisions about what they want to share, with whom, how often and where. Your phone is a perfect place to start. Does that app really need to know where you are all the time? If not, turn off location services. Turn on two-factor authentication. Turn off WIFI when you’re not signed in to a trusted source. And think twice about tapping into public WIFI.

“We’re becoming less aware of what happens with the data generated from every click, swipe and like.”

Do you think there are generational divides in regards to how savvy we are online with what we share?

Every generation has its own norms and customs. And there’s no doubt that digital natives have a different relationship with technology. I work with a lot of people with different backgrounds than me and it’s the diversity that makes it fun. I’m never going to feel the need to Snapchat my cereal but to each their own. The important thing is that everyone— regardless of age, class, or belief—has the power to make their own decisions on and offline.

“Does that app really need to know where you are all the time? If not, turn off location services.”

Do you think we all need to be more responsible for how much personal data we give out?

Everyone should have their own personal privacy policy that helps them make decisions about what they want to share, with whom, how often and where. We should all have the ability to protect our online identity. This is not only for our own good, but it’s for the public good of the Internet. The Internet only stays healthy if we trust it as a safe place – to explore, transact, connect, and create.

What are the positive sides of sharing so much about ourselves online?

There are so many more ways to express our individuality online that the act of creating and making has really flourished with the growth of social channels. And that isn’t always a solo act. People are finding collaborators and kindred spirits from across the globe so it’s exciting to see that diversity of voices and expressions.

Why did you choose to show how this data can be collected and analysed in this particular form? (A pop-up tech store with artist installations?)

Mozilla is a not-for-profit that believes we need an informed and engaged citizenry to protect the web. We do events like this to invite conversation on how technology is shaping society and what kind of world we want to build, together.

“The important thing is that everyone— regardless of age, class, or belief—has the power to make their own decisions on and offline.”

What do you think the future holds for technology – any trends for 2018?

There’s a rising chorus of voices asking serious questions about vital issues that affect our privacy and security. And we’re starting to see people raise important questions about the responsibility that tech companies have to society. As Big Tech gets even bigger, the conversation around decentralisation will likely increase. It’s an important one if we want the web to remain open for everyone to build, surf, and thrive on it.

What practical things can we do, to empower ourselves online?

Start with controlling your apps, managing your preferences, choosing strong passwords, and using 2-factor authentication.

The Glass Room will be open to the public, free of charge, between 12pm and 8pm daily from Wednesday 25th October to Sunday 12th November 2017.

The Glass Room Experience will be touring the UK during the same period, offering visitors in towns and cities like Manchester, Birmingham, Leeds and Bristol an opportunity to gain insight into the implications of today’s digital life. More details can be found at https://theglassroom.org

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