Gathan Beaga

snapper: what about privacy?

SnapperI have this conflict when it comes to Snapper, a kind of internal argument between a technology geek and a privacy geek. It goes a bit like this:

  • Technology geek: It’s so cool. I want one. I just wave it past the reader! It comes in different form factors. And I can get a reader for it that will plug into my PC. It’s the Future™!
  • Privacy geek: I’ll have to read the privacy policy. When I wave it past the reader in the buses and shops they’ll be collecting all sorts of data. What do they do with it? How long do they keep it for? And to whom do they give it to?

  • Technology geek: But look at that great red colour. And that metallic-finish ink on the fish logo is amazing. How do they do that?
  • Privacy geek: Jeez, down boy! Cripes, have you read this thing? Data smog like an Olympic summer in Beijing. My data is kept indefinitely, either in New Zealand or overseas, it says – but why overseas? Is some in Korea? And what about paragraph 12d, where my data can be given away for reasons of public safety? Does this mean the police can trawl Snapper’s database whenever they like on a anti-terrorism or perhaps even flimsier pretext?

  • Technology geek: Look, who really cares about that stuff? Snapper is so convenient! Hey, I wonder what chip is inside here. That guy on the Wellingtonista said it’s a JavaCard, so it could still be a MiFare, but maybe the as-yet unbroken MiFare ProX. Or something else. Maybe the Koreans fabbed their own. But… if it really is a JavaCard just think of all the other cool applications that could be put on it! Should I be learning JC, I wonder?
  • Privacy geek: FFS. You’ve never managed to learn any computer language before. And that’s a less useful one than most others you’ve dabbled with. But really, aren’t you just the teensy bit disturbed by how Snapper, as an electronic substitute for cash, allows for the tracking and accounting of lots of transactions that previously weren’t recorded? I think I’ll buy my Snapper with cash, and not register it. That way the transactions won’t be logged to me personally, and it will remain equivalent privacy-wise, to good old cash.

  • Technology geek: Yeah, but if you do that you won’t be able go online to monitor your balance, or see your transactions, or even check out what bus stops you used. Self-inflicted FAIL! Hmmm, I wonder how Snapper really works. Maybe I should get my own RFID reader and see if I can make the card do talkies with my PC. And, it would be quite good to see what other RFID tags are lurking around the house.
  • Privacy geek: Now you’re on to something. Microwave the little fuckers when you find them. And then we can test my new RFID blocking wallet. You never know who could be sniping passers-by with a high-powered RFID reader.

  • Technology geek: You are a bit paranoid, aren’t you. But I’ll play along if it means I can get my RFID reader. Or maybe I can build my own! On the other hand, maybe I can melt this card in acetone and tape what remains to the inside of my phone. And then I will be the most 133+ Snapping g33k in Wellington!
  • Privacy geek: Fucking hell. There’s no hope. Maybe Scott McNealy is right.

And so on it goes.

Whatever your opinion on this sort of thing, it’s still worth reading the boring bits, the Terms and Conditions and Privacy Policies, just to make sure you are comfortable with the trade-off between desire and convenience versus privacy. And perhaps you can find a usage strategy that allows for a certain amount of both.