A question for Messrs Watson and Davis: who actually poses the greater threat to individual data in the UK – GCHQ or Facebook?


‘Solar powered drones which provide internet access to rural and remote areas have been trialled in UK for first time by Facebook. is the opening line, as the Telegraph finds ‘The Man’ who is going to light up the lives of the United Kingdom’s ‘not spots’ communities from 60,000 feet on high.

The final 10% – those who will never get to see a BT fibre cable down their country lane – will be linked to the rest of the world via a solar-powered drone. Chucking out wireless connectivity.

‘Facebook says this will bring online connectivity to remote locations, previously inaccessible, for the first time…

So a drone will park itself over that corner of the Lincolnshire Wolds, that bit of the North York Moors and that stretch of the Lake District to those communities left bereft by the combined might of BT and BDUK.

The Telegraph piece continues…

“Today, I’m excited to share that we’ve successfully completed our first test flight of these aircraft in the UK,” Mr Zuckerberg announced yesterday in a post of his Facebook page.

“Aircraft like these will help connect the whole world because they can affordably serve the 10 per cent of the world’s population that live in remote communities without existing internet infrastructure.”

Facebook, clearly, have no interest whatsoever in the remaining 90% of the world’s population. For whom finding an effective enough connection to deliver a piece of video into their mobile phone will be of major concern over the next few years.

At least until Mark has 100 of his drones parked up above us. Over that part of the Lincolnshire Wolds, that bit of the North York Moors and that stretch of the Lake District.

He needs a legislative change for that to happen first, of course.

“Currently one person must be in control of an aircraft at all times, but Facebook hopes to change legislation so that one person can control ten or even a hundred partially-automated aircraft…

Earlier this month Labour MP Tom Watson and his Tory counterpart David Davis won a significant High Court ruling that the emergency surveillance legislation introduced by the coalition government last year was unlawful.

“In their challenge, Davis and Watson argued that the law allowed the police and security services to spy on citizens without sufficient privacy safeguards.

“They said the legislation was incompatible with article eight of the European convention on human rights, the right to respect for private and family life, and articles seven and eight of the EU charter of fundamental rights, respect for private and family life and protection of personal data…

“Nor, they argued, were there adequate safeguards against communications data leaving the EU.”

For the civil libertarians spurred into action by Edward Snowden’s revelations of a spook and a spy eavesdropping on every mobile conversation this was, no doubt, the State’s wings being clipped. GCHQ and their ilk being put back in their box.

I’ve always been of a mind that if only GCHQ had listened that little bit harder in the weeks leading up to the events of 7/7 then 50-odd families might not still be in mourning.

But there is a bigger point here. And one which Messrs Watson and Davis ought to ponder. Who actually presents a bigger danger to my individual, personal data – GCHQ or Mark Zuckerberg?

I spent the majority of 2014 working on a project that would have delivered ubiquitous wifi/wireless connection across the length and breadth of one, rural county in the UK.

It would have been delivered from about 15ft high – not 60,000ft high. About the same height as the wifi cloud we installed over the church car park in the village of Loddon, Norfolk, via NESTA’s Destination Local programme. Off the chimney on our old house.

It meant that I, not Facebook, owned the data regarding the usage of individual mobiles in that car park. I had their location. Not Mark. I don’t know who you are, but I now know where you are…

You are 50m from Co-Op (Loddon). Have an offer.

Working on that project taught me many lessons – not least the importance that HM Government places on the sovereignty of individual UK user data. A point Watson and Davis made in their push-back with regard to GCHQ’s ‘ambitions’ in this space.

“Nor, they argued, were there adequate safeguards against communications data leaving the EU…

And all the data that Facebook hoovers up from 100 drones flying 60,000ft over the UK night and day will be going where, exactly?

The other point is that – as far as I’m aware – GCHQ have no interest in the publishing space. They just listen in, occasionally. They don’t shape the way that 30.3 million UK citizens access a news feed, for example. And then experiment with their emotions via tweaks to an algorithm.

Two quick and final points.

The Hyperlocal Holy Trinity is Content, Commerce …and Connection. Without all three, nothing works. Certainly not when it comes to uniting mobile and video.

Facebook have already cornered the market in the first two. The third they will do via dozens of drones in the skies above London. Facebook will, indeed, be the Internet.

If I was TfL – or rather if I was HM Government looking at those already in possession of the kind of ubiquitous network to facilitate this – I would want a cloud of connectivity to be launched across my capital from 15ft high, not 60,000ft high. Bus stop level. Light up 11,000 bus stops up and down so many suburban High Streets and all that individual user data goes no further.

It stays firmly put in the UK. And in this country at least, Facebook don’t get to own the Internet. Just as they don’t in Loddon.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *