Real-life personal data issue?

BCS Member Neil Spurgeon FBCS CITP found a worrying development when a local online community changed hands.

When I retired I finally had some time on my hands. I discovered a local online community using Streetlife. This excellent site, something like the old bulletin boards of yesteryear, linked people in my local area via a daily update of current items of interest. I was a member for a couple of years and we had a few successes: the positive support of the community for a new supermarket, the active drive to prevent a large industrial site being built on attractive coastal land, lost cats and dogs’ muck and so on. The items for people to collect, free, was particularly useful and I managed to find a good home for my mother's old set of Encyclopedias and rediscovered an old colleague.

When I joined I was asked for an email address, so that I could get the daily bulletin, and my name and address. On the site I was Neil S from Fareham (a sizeable town) although others on the same site localised themselves down to village names, where their village bordered onto my borough.

At the end of January, without much prior warning, up came a note to say that Streetlife was ‘teaming up with’ Nextdoor. Would I like to transfer my links because Streetlife would soon close? It seemed a reasonable request, things often change, so I switched.

Suddenly I found my full name and my full address was visible to all my neighbours. Not only could I not go back to Streetlife, which has now closed anyway, but the most I could do to reduce my visibility was to remove my street number (I live in a cul de sac of just 13 houses), and lie about my name. I discontinued the use of Nextdoor very swiftly, but not before requesting the owners to actively consider making their system more secure. I received a very abrupt and unconvincing reply from ‘Thomas’ at ‘Streetlife Support’ (interesting that his full name was hidden).

I have opened a BCS query, which prompted this blog, and asked the ICO to investigate what I personally feel is a breach of the spirit, if not the letter, of the Data Protection Act by Nextdoor, an American owned company. In the meantime, I have suggested that people close their account with Nextdoor so that the owners understand that there is disquiet among British communities of this new approach.

It is such a pity that a highly successful and very useful local initiative has been hijacked, presumably for profit, with scant regard for the natural data fears of local users.

In my view, such issues are unfortunately inevitable when large companies do not fully consider the needs of their users when transferring customer information, and especially when openly revealing this data on the web.

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  • 1
    Edward R Williams wrote on 17th May 2017

    Thoroughly agree with this post. Not only is it questionable that larger organisations become involved for profit, but it is the question of true security and privacy that is at question. Streetlife being taken over by the American Nextdoor and plasters your full private address on the blog is wrong,

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