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They want me to install CCTV to see what YOU did in the TOILET

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Something For The Weekend, Sir? I have just come out of a boardroom presentation in which a fibre network installer bored us all shitless speaking in initials and acronyms for an hour and a half.

The one time we woke up was when he used the expression “SLA”, being the only abbreviation that everyone in the room was familiar with – including the accountant. Curiously, at this point the presenter coughed and said: “Sorry, that means ‘service level agreement” before carrying on.

What could have prompted him to explain this particular three-letter abbreviation (or, rather, TLA) and not the others? My suspicion is that it was the only one that he understood himself.

But what annoyed me the most was when he expressed his right-on, left-wing credentials, wholly unprompted and, one imagines, delivered in an attempt to appeal to us Tech City hipsters.

For “hipsters” is what we are – including the accountant. I was told this by a blonde German in a pub on Wednesday evening while I was lecturing friends on my favourite subject: the newly polished floor in my Hoxton office.

“Ah, so you are der hipster!”

Actually, that’s not quite what she said. If she had, this would have carried the ludicrous implication that I might by some freak quirk of disturbed imagination be considered “hip”.

No, what she actually said was: “Ah, so you verk viz der hipsters!”

That is, everyone around me at work is hip – including the accountant. I just happen to walk among them… a bit like the lost black dude in Woody Allen’s Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex but Were Afraid to Ask. What am I doing here?

Excerpt from above named film.

The presenter gave an example of his street cred by claiming that his company regularly installs high-speed broadband to affordable housing that would normally be ignored or avoided by other providers on account of the occupants being too poor. Or, as he put it, they represent a bad ROI. What they lose on these customers they make back through commercial deals.

Why he thought I should be pleased to hear that an out-of-work unfortunate up the road will be downloading porn all day at my expense, I have no idea. But then I lack hips.

What did stick in my mind was a suggestion that we use part of our promised fibre bandwidth for CCTV. I see this in shops every day, of course, but it never occurred to me that it would have any application in an office. And I still don’t. But apparently I am in a minority in this respect: office-based businesses love CCTV and are using it to spy on their own employees for everything from photocopier abuse to comfort-break frequency.

For one thing, who the heck wants to sit around watching staff go in and out of the restroom? OK, I suppose some people get off on that kind of thing, but in general?

For another thing, who has the time to watch it all? The cost of hiring a bored security guard to watch the recordings of your company’s toilet comings and (ahem) goings would surely negate any benefit an employer might enjoy from being able to tick off an underling who over-indulged at the curry house last night.

Speaking for myself, I’d rather not know.

Besides, the proliferation of CCTV tends to encourage vandalism: specifically, people will try to vandalise the CCTV cameras. This means you’d need a second CCTV system with cameras pointing at the first CCTV system, and a second set of bored security guards to watch live video feeds of motionless video cameras. It’s all reminiscent of Monty Python’s sketch – disconcertingly racist in hindsight – about being lost in the jungle. So who’s filming us now?

The Monty Python sketch. Features a blacked-up Eric Idle.

In the 1960s, an 8-hour motion picture of a still camera would have made some hipster in New York famous for at least 15 minutes. Unfortunately, Hoxton hipsters in the 2010s would look daft doing the same. And since I’m not a hipster, in my case I’d just look paranoid, sad and probably more than a little creepy.

All this increases the chances of a backlash; not specifically against CCTV, but against the whole field of digital curtain-twitching that has been inaccurately sold to us as “social media”. It has nothing to do with social interaction and everything to do with big corporations watching, recording and stealing our lives before selling it back to us at a premium.

All those crappy smartphone apps that warn you of the presence of other people are the worst. The carefree days of my friends using Gaydar might have to return to the closet if users begin to fear – even without the, er, hard evidence – that their nasty government’s security services are ripping the data straight from the Wi-Fi and 3G signals.

So it is no surprise to see the growing popularity of social apps that help you avoid being social, from Cloak to Snapchat. I’m told that users are ditching WhatsApp because its original main selling point was NOT being part of a big data-harvesting corporation. Even DuckDuckGo merited its own feature in today’s Metro newspaper.

It’s time for unhip people like me and possibly you – even including the accountant – to hit back. All hail anti-social media.

Alistair DabbsAlistair Dabbs is a freelance technology tart, juggling IT journalism, editorial training and digital publishing. His wife once bought him a t-shirt with the slogan: “CCTV: crushing communities everywhere”. It has attracted more positive approval from passers-by than any other t-shirt he owns, including the smellyourmum.com classic: “I have the patience of a saint: St Cunty McFuckOff.”

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

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