Have you ever wondered why so many email, social media, and online communication services are free to use, and yet we still have to pay for a postage stamp? How is this possible? It’s possible because many of our favourite social platforms collect huge amounts of information about their users, and then use this harvested data to sell targeted advertising. We, and our data, have all become the ‘product’ that these companies are selling. So many of us blindly hand over our personal information, lured in by the promise of a fun app, a convenient way to share our photos with far-flung family members, or even by a discount on our next supermarket shop. But few of us stop to read the terms and conditions when we initially sign up to these services; and it’s not as if we have any choice – if you don’t agree to the terms and conditions, you don’t get to play with the shiny new product or service! And once the data is out there, being sold on, it could very easily be shared with 10,000 other businesses, some of which might adopt more aggressive marketing techniques, making for much irritating spam in our email inboxes, or unwanted SMS messages or calls to our phones. It’s hardly surprising, therefore, that trust, between the public and the businesses and organisations who regularly harvest our data, is a rare commodity these days. A factor not helped by all too regular reports on news channels of businesses losing great swathes of the data that they’ve collected over the years – our data! And it’s not just business that’s collecting data. Governments are increasingly collecting information on their populace, sometimes with the intention of making our lives better – through better healthcare and transport systems – but more sinisterly, as in the case of China, to rank their civilians, grading them in terms of how ‘good’ (read, obedient) a civilian they are, which, it has to be said, has very significant, and sinister, ‘1984’ connotations.