Data is a strange thing.
ON THE ONE HAND, we are all more cautious about giving out information regarding our personal lives these days. We hear stories about data breaches at the Sony Playstation network or the loss of two discs containing all of the UK’s child benefit data and we worry about the implications. Simultaneously we are giving more personal information away than ever before, in some cases, without any thought as to how this may be used.
Not only are we willingly sharing every aspect of our personal lives with Facebook, but we do this in the knowledge that in order for us to continue to access it for free, this information is then used as a profiling tool to deliver ‘relevant’ marketing messages to us. In LinkedIn we share personal information about our job history, we even share detailed information about our connections and customers. Twitter allows us to share our most precious information – updates about our day to day lives and in many cases, our inner thoughts.
So, does the loss of the Census data even matter, after all, it is simply a snapshot of our lives in 2011?
The type of information in the census is probably of limited value to the majority of people or organisations.
The first part of the questionnaire is related to our Household – including the people who live in our property and details about that property such as ownership information, number of bedrooms, type of heating, number of vehicles and so on. These are probably used to calculate tax related information on a local, regional and national basis.
Individual questions in the next section are more related to our personal info, relationships, citizenship and also a bit about our general health. This section finally touches on education and work related data such as employment status and so on.
The final section relates to visitors and their own data. This is to ensure that people are not missed from the census through forgetting about it or missing the warning info.
What are the implications?
Taking everything into consideration, some of this information would be valuable to specific companies, for example those looking to sell central heating systems or maybe health insurance, but much of the data is useful only for doing macro-economic analysis across a large population.
As with any personalised database there would also some use for stealing identities, though after discussion, we thought of one area where it would be extremely powerful information.
If someone was looking to find someone else, this would be the most effective way of doing it. For example, this could be a bank looking for a defaulting customer who has disappeared, it could equally be an absent parent, who is being sought for maintenance payments. We suspect that it would be of limited use for tracing missing criminals, as they are unlikely to be filling in the census forms anyway.
Aside from the obvious implications of someone having access to a single source with all of your personal information, much of the information collected is probably already available from other sources.
What can I do next if I am worried?
If you are worried about what information may have been released, firstly, you can download a copy of the Census 2011 questionnaire to remind yourself of the questions asked.
Second, you may want to review the sources of personal information you have given your data to including social networks, surveys, store cards and so on, to ensure you are fully aware of the information that is held on you.
More information regarding other ways to understand your data rights can also be obtained from the Information Commissioner’s Office.Share