Someone to watch over me

Bongani Bingwa
By Bongani Bingwa | Follow @bonglez
Bongani Bingwa has been a presenter and journalist for South Africa's longest running investigative television programme Carte Blanche since 2007. He has interviewed thought leaders, senior politicians, and captains of industry, authors, celebrities and high-flyers on the global stage. His experience includes ancho [...] See full profile

So when I wake up every morning, before I do anything – go to the bathroom, make coffee, stretch, perhaps even yawn – I reach for my phone.

Not for the same reason that normal people might. I’m not silencing my alarm or delaying my waking. No, quite the opposite; I am eager for my day to begin! What did I miss overnight? Who is the latest target from Trump Towers? Who is trending for all the reasons? Who, as the lingo goes, is being fetched for some indiscretion or miscalculated tweet?

It was not long ago that I, like many of my generation, was an avid user of Facebook as my preferred social media platform and was dismissive of Twitter and Instagram. Of course, as you might guess, I had not even heard of Snapchat! I was pretty sure I did not want to know what people were having for breakfast, their shopping routines or what the inside of their cars looked like – certainly I was sure I did not want to see what most look like in bed!

And that’s where I was wrong! Firstly let us dispense with one irritating misnomer that has long passed its sell-by date: the idea of your “virtual” life online. There is no longer any such. All the self-indulgent frivolities listed above may seem insignificant to a news junkie like myself who wants serious content, but taken in totality they are invaluable to a hacker who wants to take possession of your virtual soul! And as a reflection of your habits, the places you frequent, with whom you do so and for what purpose is not only of interest to criminals, but indeed to corporates and governments.


whilst our online presence is most often our best foot forward, it is that very aspirational quality that leaves us vulnerable.

This is because this unlikely tri-partite alliance understands that whilst our online presence is most often our best foot forward, it is that very aspirational quality that leaves us vulnerable. Appeals to our vanity or pleasure are the best way to get us addicted and to let us drop our guard.

So, what might be an innocuous post about my favourite holiday destination or checking in at the airport as I begin my “bae-cation” is an immediate alert to those with nefarious intentions that my partner and I have vacated our home for some time. At the core of our social media interactions is a built-in sense of trust because we assume that our “friends” and “followers” genuinely “like” us and have our best interests at heart. It is in this way that we divulge more information than we intend and leave ourselves open to attacks.

When Carte Blanche convened the foremost experts on hacking recently, my first question to them was why ‘would anyone think I am of interest and worth a hack in the first place?’. The reason is very simple: if you have any online presence, you are likely economically active and therefore can be useful for commercial reasons. From brands to intelligence agencies – your information is valuable to someone and they are willing to pay or steal to get it!

How many of us actually read the terms and conditions of the applications we download? And if we did and found something we were not comfortable with, would we for that reason no longer download it and miss out on being one of the cool kids? And that’s the bet that creators of spyware or malware make when they hide their viruses in the Trojan horse that many apps turn out to be!

But perhaps the most noteworthy aspect of our online footprint is that it is there for posterity. Once posted it will always have a trace that anyone with the right tools and know-how will be able to recover even if deleted.

If you have ever had the creepy feeling when someone is peering over your shoulder trying to see what you’re reading in a public space, that is what you invite with every click, like or share. Someone already knows you’ve just read this.

Online Tracking