Just Some Light Tracking? That Could Cost You [KitBit 17.9]

The folks making sweeping wrongheaded decisions about large amounts of personal data gathering, storage and manipulation often appear to forget what’s behind the additional rows they want in their database to make their lives easier.

People are behind the rows. Data is not the new oil, or any other natural resource analogy you can find in a breathless big data hype piece. Personal data is people

The bizarre story of the Irish Central Statistics Office’s insistence it should have access to the mobile phone records of visitors to Ireland is a case in point. People, it seems, don’t really like being surveilled for no good reason. Amazing, I know. People are becoming increasingly aware of attempted infringements on their privacy rights. They are becoming more protective of these rights.

The recent Eurobarometer report on e-Privacy (published December 2016, fieldwork carried out in July 2016) states that the “privacy of their personal information, their online communications and their online behaviour is very important to the majority of respondents.”

The report also contains these two key findings:

The majority know that, according to the law, personal information on their computer, smartphone or tablet can only be accessed if they have given permission (67%), or that nobody can store information on their computer, smartphone or tablet without their permission (58%).

More than half (56%) say it is very important that tools for monitoring their activities online can only be used with their permission.

As the CSO seems unable to grasp the possible implications of what it has been attempting to do since 2008, I decided to do a bit of back of the napkin mathematics to come up with some numbers to illustrate that abstract decisions about data gathering can have real world consequences.

These rough calculations are based on figures from Tourism Ireland for 2015: ‘Overseas Visitors, Island of Ireland’ [PDF link]. I’ve only used the figures for the Republic of Ireland and excluded the Northern Ireland ones.

  • In 2015 there were 2,880,000 visitors to the Republic from the EU.
  • These visitors spent a total of €1,555,000,000.
  • To get a rough average spend per EU visitor I divided the total spend by the total number of visitors.
  • This gave an average of €539.93 spent per visitor in 2015.
  • Dividing the total number of visitors by 100 to get one percent gives us 28,800.
  • Multiplying 28,800 by the average spend of €539.93 gives us €15,549,984.
  • So a reduction in EU visitor numbers to the Republic of Ireland of just one percent could lead to a decrease in tourism revenue of around fifteen million Euros, based on these 2015 figures.

Of course these numbers are entirely speculative, but one of the many questions the CSO should probably have asked before pressing ahead with this project is what amount of visitors are likely to choose not to visit Ireland because the obsessive state statistics authority is tracking their movements for the duration of their visit. Given the option of a tracking holiday and a non-tracking holiday I know which one I’d choose.

[Image credit: Roman Mager on Unsplash]

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