Trust and new technology

On Wednesday 7th May the Free Word Centre presented a debate on Trust and new technology. This debate was in English and took place in the Free Word Lecture Theatre. Watch video highlights, listen to a full length recording or scan down to read Sandra Townsend’s account of the debate.

Free Word’s third Has trust lost its value? debate about trust and young people looked at the relationship between trust and new technology. The increasing role that technology plays in the organisation of both our social and professional lives was analysed and both the audience and the speakers were able to share their views on state surveillance, privacy and the choices we all make about sharing our personal data online.

What do you think about the surveillance state and the revelations about the extent to which they overlook the minutiae of our lives? Is the commonly asserted adage true: if you have nothing to hide, do you have nothing to fear? Or, did Benjamin Franklin (one of the American Founding Fathers, a politician, writer and scientist, 1706-1790) know better, when in 1755 he stated that: “They who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety”. Do you feel safer in the knowledge that the state is keeping a close eye on the actions of its citizens or do you mistrust its motivations? Also, what impact does the replacement of trust by security have upon our societies, does mass surveillance undermine trust and thus our links to each other or does it enable us to trust one another, safe in the knowledge that those ill doers in our ranks are under observation?

Hosted by BBC Radio 1 DJ Gemma Cairney and featuring contributions from Big Brother Watch and Privacy International, this lively debate asked who we really trust now that we live much of our lives online and how much these issues matter to a generation of digital natives. The debate comprised two halves. The first half taking a broad view of the issues surrounding the monitoring of online activity by large companies and governments alike, while the second half focussed on how we manage our data on a personal level, looking at what we share online, and how we manage our privacy in an ever more connected world.



Gemma Cairney is a DJ and award winning radio and television broadcaster from London. She is also the music editor for Company Magazine and co-produces and presents online entertainment show The Fox Problem. Gemma has been the voice and face of radio and TV documentaries aimed at young people on a range of issues including Bruising Silence, The Riots: The Aftermath, Dying for Clear Skin, the History of Feminism and Tempted by Teacher. She also hosted BBC Three’s 2013 live Glastonbury coverage and currently presents a daily, early morning show on BBC Radio 1.


Emma Carr is deputy director for Big Brother Watch – a British civil liberties pressure group that challenges policies that threaten privacy, freedom and civil liberties. Emma holds a history and politics degree from Northumbria University and recently completed an MSc in public services policy and management at King’s College, London.  She has a particular interest in cyber security and cybercrime. Emma is a regular feature on radio and television programmes, including the Today Programme, ITV Daybreak, Al Jazeera, Woman’s Hour, Sky News and BBC News 24.

Claudia Andrew is a 19-year old gap year student and blogger from Hackney, London. Claudia has been writing a blog and commenting on issues she feels passionate about since she was involved in an Olympics-focussed youth engagement programme called Headstart in the lead up to and during London 2012. While participating in Headstart, Claudia used social media and was part of a team documenting and commentating on the changing face of London and local East London communities from a young person’s perspective. Claudia also recently appeared on Jon Sopel’s Global BBC World TV programme, talking about her views on privacy and social media.

Hannah Flynn works to communicate ChildLine to young people in the UK through digital channels. She has worked on children and young people’s digital and social projects throughout her career, from launching Penguin Children’s Books authors into social spaces, to creating Webby and Lovie award-winning digital projects about art for Tate Kids.


Deanna Rodger is an actor and spoken word poet. She is the youngest UK Poetry Slam Champion (2007/8) and completed vocational acting training in The National Youth Theatre’s (NYT) REP Company in 2012. She has written and performed as an actor and poet, both in the 2012 Olympic Team Welcoming Ceremonies and at Buckingham Palace and 10 Downing Street. She recently wrote the one-woman show London Matter and is also a co-founder of two popular spoken word events, Chill Pill and Come Rhyme With Me


Reflections on Trust and new technology

By Sandra Townsend

On the 7th May, I attended the Trust and new technology debate, chaired by presenter Gemma Cairney, at the Free Word Centre. Having heard the title, I expected the discussion to centre on online conduct. I anticipated a wealth of embarrassing stories about inappropriate statuses, viral videos and individuals who were pulling sickies, discovering their managers had seen Facebook pictures from the night before. Yet, after listening to panellist Emma Carr, deputy director at Big Brother Watch, introduce the topic of privacy vs security, and watching a clip, which I found particularly sinister, of our foreign secretary William Hague telling us “If you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear”, I was surprised by how little I knew and thought about the personal information, I share online everyday.

I’ve always thought of myself as an internet-savvy young(ish) person. Like a character from Deanna Rodger’s poem ‘Tooth Fairy’, commissioned and performed especially for the event, I sleep with my smart phone under my pillow. So, the part of the discussion I found most interesting involved Emma Carr asking the audience if we’d ever read the privacy policies on apps like Facebook or knew what terms like metadata meant. Like most of the other people in the room, I admit I was both clueless and worried about the information I have been handing over, and yet have no idea what it is being used for.

After the debate I visited the app I use the most – Twitter – and read the privacy policy. I asked young attendees if the talk had prompted them to do the same. Most did not seem as worried as I was. One person in particular felt she didn’t share much information about herself online and, as a result, was not troubled by anything that came up. I found this surprising, considering I was most alarmed by the reality that all you have to do is look at a website and multiple organisations will then know personal information about you. Information such as, where you shop, work, study or even where you are. The general feeling was that it’s ok, because it’s just used for advertising.

I also asked my friends at home if they’d ever read or thought about privacy policies. It was not something they thought about either, however, someone did reveal that this was until she saw one of her Facebook pictures being used on an online dating website without her knowledge. Twitter privacy policy states our information can be sold or transferred in the event of a business transaction. I agree with panellist and blogger Claudia Andrews, who said that “once you put information about yourself out there, it’s no longer yours”. During the debate, Claudia said, how she wants the representation of herself online to reflect how she is in real life. However, like youth police commissioner Paris Brown, some of us share information and treat security online in a way we never would in real life.

It’s hard not to sound like a conspiracy theorist ranting and raving about a Phillip K. Dickesque future, but the reality is, as Edward Snowden revealed, that we are being watched. However, I don’t think collecting data about the general public is always a bad thing. After all, wasn’t the internet founded upon the free flow of information and communication? It can help to improve services, aid medical research or be used to promote charity services, like panellist Hannah Flynn does for ChildLine.

Young people are aware that the price of free online services, such as Facebook and Google, is our information, but I’m not sure that we’re all aware of the extent to which we pay for them. This was apparent in the outrage targeted at Instagram – a photo-sharing app most popular amongst teens and early twenty-somethings – when it changed its terms of service after being bought out by Facebook.

I suspect most of the apathy I have encountered on the subject is because we live in an age where sharing information is normal, where some see online privacy and data collection as just another aspect of modern life that there’s not much we can do about. Perhaps the arrival of new technologies, like the internet and smart phones, means privacy has become a thing of the past. However, having attended previous debates, it is clear there is a distrust of authority and the media amongst young people, due to revelations, like the expenses scandal, the Stephen Lawrence investigation and the media portrayal of Mark Duggan. It strikes me as odd that we’re not demanding the same transparency from organisations we share the most intimate details of our lives with just because they are online.

If you liked her account of the debate, you can also read more from Sandra on her blog.