There are several problems with this, and they don’t all lie on the government’s decision…
🌍 Scraping and centralising data into one place without a good reason is sketchy — at the moment there is no clear reason as to how this will help Brexit preparations. What this sounds like is an excuse to invade privacy.
🛠 Saying that it’s to ‘improve services’ is exactly what tech giants like Facebook and Google say when they want to gather as much user insight as possible in order to make money. How do they make money from this? User data = thing you can sell to peddle targeted ads.
🏃♀️ The urgency behind it sets off alarm bells — the government may not need this data for ad revenue, so what do they need it for and why do they need it right now? My best guess is to avoid another Cambridge Analytica type scandal. If they centralise the data in the name of improving services, they look like they’re being transparent about it. But are they?
If you look at this tweet, the author suggests simply turning off cookies. This is a barrister with a large following, so what we have here are many replies thanking him for the tip, and feeling satisfied that their data is somehow ‘safe’.
People, no… cookies are just one tiny facet of the problem. Many of us will have gov.uk accounts already, so clearing cookies really doesn’t cut it. There are many devastating brands of online surveillance such as tracking pixels and browser fingerprinting. The issue we have here is not only companies and governments exercising their power to perform shady data practices, but a profound lack of understanding from the general public.
Watching The Great Hack on Netflix teaches you more about Brittany Kaiser than it does about nuances of data privacy issues — education around this is vitally important, because more of us need to be questioning why the government want to urgently centralise this data.
Gov.uk provide a wealth of public services, from paying taxes and sorting out your passport, to claiming benefits and registering a death. Centralising this data gives those who have access to it the power to massively influence the public for their gain — and it cannot be undone by deleting cookies.