My View: Madeleine McDonald

I had little sympathy with celebrities claiming that their phone calls had been hacked by tabloid newspapers, dismissing their complaints as publicity stunts. That was before the banners appeared on my computer.

For the last couple of months, I have been plagued by advertising banners and pop-ups that relate specifically to my own recent internet searches. Sometimes I manage to delete them, sometimes not. For me, what I look at is my own business, whether that be shower stools or stainless steel saucepans. Now the citadel of my privacy has been breached and I am as livid as any celebrity caught in an extra-marital dalliance. I opted out of junk mail and unsolicited telephone calls. I delete emails from unknown senders. To no avail: I am pursued by pop-ups.

The trap of “once posted, never deleted” has become “once browsed, never deleted”. Let’s say you are pushed for time and use your office computer in the lunch hour to order underwear from bumsandboobs.com. Do you really want a selection of said underwear scrolling down the side of the screen while you discuss sales figures with the manager? I used not to worry about internet privacy.

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I accepted the Faustian bargain of surrendering certain details about my personal life in return for convenience. For example, the supermarket’s delivery charge costs me less than I would spend in petrol, and I save time, so it suits me to place an order for heavy tins and bulky items delivered to the door every few months.

So what if they track every purchase and correlate it with my address, age and dress size? Supermarkets are not charities, and it’s a case of buyer beware. At most it used to mean deleting a few unwanted emails. Now I’m not so sure. Technology is racing ahead of ordinary users, in ways we cannot begin to imagine. Earlier this year, an American website for artisans attracted criticism. Initially a blameless showcase for quirky, pretty handmade objects, the site decided to introduce a people search feature, for customers to meet new, like-minded friends – presumably the better to flaunt their quirky, pretty scarves and jewellery.

Customers were outraged to find their names published and their purchases listed for all to inspect. This being in America, lawsuits are no doubt pending. Where technology innovates, fraudsters will not be far behind. I abandoned social networking sites because I found offers to match me with, say, my dentist’s sister-in-law intrusive and irritating. When criminals apply their talents to analysing the wealth of information we scatter, stand by for new and ever more convincing scams invading our screens.

Eventually, some whizzkid will find a way to block nuisance advertisements. Until then, since I’m not prepared to forgo supermarket deliveries, and the convenience of an encyclopaedia at my fingertips, I reckon I’m stuck with them. Celebrities, you have my sympathy.