Should undie se­crets stay un­der cover?

The Herald - - FRONT PAGE - ALI­SON ROWAT’S

OH the pain of head­line writ­ers when some­one steals their gag. The story was bra fit­ters Rigby & Peller los­ing their royal war­rant af­ter its owner wrote a book men­tion­ing her fa­mous clients.

The subs went through the mo­tions with the likes of “Palace bust-up”, “Stripped”, and “Roy­als get knick­ers in a twist over book”, but the cliche they all wanted to use, Storm in a D-Cup, had al­ready been snapped up by June Ken­ton, who used it as the ti­tle of her book, pub­lished last year.

The Palace, as is cus­tom­ary, would not com­ment on royal war­rants. Nor would the Ken­ton fam­ily go into de­tail. But Mrs Ken­ton’s daugh­ter, Jill, said her mother was “dev­as­tated”. She added: “The book was not a kissand-tell. It was a kind, gen­tle mem­oir. She is not dis­loyal”. Her mother told the Tele­graph: “The book doesn’t con­tain any­thing naughty. But it’s a fact I have done work for the Queen. There would be a gap­ing hole if I didn’t men­tion it.”

Look­ing at some of the book’s con­tent, one can sym­pa­thise. At one point, see­ing the skies darken out­side, the Queen ex­presses the hope it won’t rain as she has 8,000 peo­ple com­ing for tea. Oh, and she asks for the Cor­gis to be brought in (“Rain­gate” again). Then there is the con­ver­sa­tion with the Queen Mother in which Mrs Ken­ton tells her she looked won­der­ful in a li­lac out­fit. “It was rather nice, wasn’t it?” the QM replied. I hardly think the writ­ers of The Crown have any­thing to worry about.

But the ques­tion re­mains whether Mrs Ken­ton should have writ­ten the book at all. Did not the Queen, and other fa­mous clients, in­clud­ing Cherie Blair (who in­sisted on Mrs Ken­ton com­ing to Num­ber 10) have a right to ex­pect pri­vacy? At the risk of sound­ing like Lady Mary from Down­ton Abbey, should not the re­la­tion­ship be­tween a wo­man and her bra fit­ter be like the old one be­tween valet and em­ployer? No man was a hero to his valet, but se­crets by and large stayed se­cret.

As we go about our daily busi­ness we are vaguely aware of data pro­tec­tion reg­u­la­tions, if only be­cause we run up against them our­selves. We be­lieve we can count on pri­vacy from the ob­vi­ous quar­ters, the health ser­vices, our em­ploy­ers, and such like. But what about fam­ily and friends on Face­book? Or hair­dressers, me­chan­ics, col­leagues, that per­son, armed with a smart­phone, who sees you slip on the ice and thinks it would be a laugh to post a pic?

We have never been more con­cerned with our pri­vacy at the same time as we have rushed to give away in­for­ma­tion about our­selves. The in­ter­net is one vast trawler net, pulling in shoals of de­tails and de­posit­ing them on the decks of search engines which use them as bait to catch even more info. Ever won­der why all those ads for hand­bags or hol­i­days in Spain keep pop­ping up ev­ery time you go on to a page? They’ve got your num­ber all right. Pound for pound of data, the web prob­a­bly knows more about you than the In­land Rev­enue. Isn’t that a chill­ing thought?

Yet what a fuss is made if some dippy civil ser­vant leaves a lap­top on the train, or an ab­sent-minded Min­is­ter be­comes the umpteenth glaikit mem­ber to walk out of 10 Down­ing Street with their notes on show. We would be smarter than that, would we not? We wouldn’t store per­sonal de­tails on our com­put­ers, and keep us­ing the same pass­words, usu­ally the dog’s name, for don­keys’ years?

Such is our will­ing­ness to share, em­ploy­ers are get­ting in on the act. Hi­tachi, for ex­am­ple, in­vented sen­sor badges to mea­sure the hap­pi­ness of its work­ers, as ex­pressed in how much they moved around, talked to others, took a break, etc. Be­liev­ing a happy worker to be a bet­ter per­form­ing one, the firm then ad­vised staff, via a phone app, how to im­prove their work­ing day. Per­for­mance duly rose. But what if a less be­nign em­ployer de­ployed sim­i­lar de­vices to root out un­der­per­form­ing work­ers, or to spy on staff in other ways?

It is too late now to put the ge­nie back in the bot­tle, par­tic­u­larly on the in­ter­net, which can hold on to our data even af­ter we are dead. But with­out go­ing full off -the-grid, cabin-in-the-woods para­noid, it would not hurt to be more ques­tion­ing when we are asked ques­tions. In­stead of “What would you like to know?” let the de­fault po­si­tion be “Who wants to know and why?”

As for the fit­ting of bras, and other items of cloth­ing, that will soon be done by ro­bots. They won’t write books (not yet, any­way), but the idea that your se­crets are safer with a hunk of metal than some nice lady who worked hard, built a suc­cess­ful busi­ness, and wrote af­fec­tion­ately about her fa­mous clients, is crazy.

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