P&J Column for 12.2.15

A TV that spies on viewers. Has Goggle-box taught us nothing?

Professor Hector Schlenk, Senior Research Fellow at the Bogton Institute for Public Engagement with Science

As a scientist, I’m always being asked questions such as ‘How old is the Universe?’ ‘Will supersonic air travel ever become affordable?’ and ‘How do you like your eggs in the morning?’  But recently, people have been asking me about their TV.  “It definitely looks better on your feature wall”, I tell them.  “It makes the room seem much larger”.  And then we laugh, chiefly at the thought of taking interior décor advice from a man with a Van de Graaff generator in his living room.

Their concerns, it transpires, are to do with the fear that their own TV might be spying on them – An electronics giant has confessed to customers that it’s voice-activated ‘smart TV’ listens to everything that anyone says and transmits the data to HQ for analysis.  But how has such invasive technology come to pass?

Every technological advance ever made has been developed with the sole purpose of making consumers sit still while they are sold things, not least the TV itself.  Listeners to ‘the wireless’ had to use their own imaginations to enjoy the spoken word; thankfully the introduction of pictures spared them that intolerable burden.  Now voice-activation technology puts an end to the work-a-day misery of aiming a small box at the screen and pressing a button.  But at what price?

Well, my concern is not for the sofa-bound, who discover they have been effectively ‘bugged’ by a multinational. I feel for the boffins who have to analyse the data.  Imagine for a moment that after completing an electronic engineering degree, a masters and a PHD, your daily grind was wading through hours and hours of conversations like “Turn it up would you love?” “Is that the guy that used to be in The Bill?” and “Crikey mate, that stinks! What on earth have you been eating?”

Barclay Lloyd, a Banker you can trust

The news that HSBC has been helping clients to avoid billions of pounds in tax by hiding assets from her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs has come as a further bitter blow to the battered reputation of the banking sector.  I think we can all agree that the news that Bankers were concealing wealthy clients’ funds in foreign tax havens was wholly predictable – I mean, unacceptable.

Following this revelation, the Aberdeen and District Savings Bank has conducted a thorough audit of its operations, and in the interests of transparency I am happy to share the results with you.

Total amount of assets concealed (all found down the back of the sofa): £3.22 in mixed coin, a plastic comb and a foosty Kola Kube. Extent of bank manager’s connections to Switzerland: one “swatch” watch, a childhood pen pal in Lucerne and a fondness for Toblerone, (indulged only at Christmas).

I hope that with this full disclosure we can move forward, secure in the knowledge that Aberdeen and District’s probity is unimpeachable, and that no one with any sense would entrust vast amounts of money to us, anyway.

PC Bobby Constable, (retired). Former Community Policeman

There has been a great to-do recently aboot a mannie apparently being caught on the phone, using a laptop and listening to a headset while driving up Queen’s Road.  He wiz caught efter a cyclist went by and took footage of him using a heid-mounted camera. Of course, mony folks are hailing the cyclist as a hero files racing to condemn the motorist, but I’m nae sae sure. Do we really want this sort of covert recording to become commonplace?  Vigilante cyclists constantly wheeching aboot, sanctimoniously scanning the horizon for the wrongdoings of ithers might present as much of a safety hazard as the folk they are trying to catch red-handed. And what then?  Will we see folk on micro-scooters, using their mobile phones to take photos of the cyclists?  The scooterists pursued by snap-happy roller bladers? And they, in turn, by sketch-book wielding skateboarders? We need to realise exactly what is at stake here.

I firmly believe that amateur surveillance must be discouraged. Afore we ken it, abody will be spying on abody else the hale time, and ga’an aboot wi’ an attitude of perpetual mistrust and mutual grievance. Civil society will be changed forever. And afore you say it, my opposition tae surveillance culture his nithing tae dae with it being used to monitor police brutality. In thirty year on the beat, I never once drew my truncheon in anger.  I just used to clout folk with my torch.