Category Archives: Personal

A life saved, by life savers


Around 10pm on the evening of Tuesday, 4th August, I received a phone call from my sister. My 81 year old father, who has dementia, had gone missing from his care home, and his absence had not been noticed for around four hours. The police were looking for him, but he had not been found in the immediate area. I jumped in the car with my wife, and we drove the eighty miles to Manton, Rutland. There then followed nearly forty-eight hours of constant driving, walking paths, telephone calls and growing despair, as we and the large police and search and rescue presence failed to find my father, or any sign of him. The only strong sightings of him had been from shortly after he must have left the care home.

But yesterday, Thursday, 6th August, around 16:45, my father was found. He had managed, apparently on that first evening, to walk 6 kilometres before either falling, or lying down, in a field of oilseed rape, due to be harvested – we were later told –  the next day. There he had lain for forty-odd hours, in a spot half a mile down a steep heavily rutted farm track so remote that – although some of us had previously searched part way down the track which led to it – it seemed barely credible he could have been there. He was badly dehydrated, and sunburnt (his disappearance coincided – thanks goodness – with some mild and partially sunny weather, and the nights were not cold) but fortunately, although he seems to have fallen in the field, the crops and his clothing (again thank goodness – he had full clothing on, including a fleece and a few layers of clothing) meant he was only slightly bruised. He is now recovering in hospital. The map above shows the route he took, along a busy main road with no pavement, past an army barracks and down the fateful rutted track.

Early on Wednesday morning, I put out a frantic tweet, followed by a few others, and my first ever Facebook post, to support the social media efforts of Leicestershire Police. The response was extraordinary (I even got replies from Alison Moyet and Caroline Flack!) and I can’t thank people enough for doing this, and equally, my gratitude to those who sent me direct messages of support is unbounded. Shortly after posting these messages all my phone’s data services packed up, so any replies or updates were done by borrowing other people’s devices.

But the people who deserve the most thanks (in addition to my so supportive wife) are those who actually helped to find my father. The fantastic local police of Leicestershire and Northamptonshire, and the remarkable volunteers of the various Lowland Rescue organisations: I know there were representatives of Leicestershire, Northamptonshire, Warwickshire and Staffordshire, and if I’ve forgotten anyone, then I apologise and will happily add them [ed. a commenter below tells me there were also rescuers from Nottinghamshire, Yorkshire, Cambridgeshire and Lincolnshire!]. There was no let-up in the searches, except when deep nighttime militated against it, and the planning and coordination were tremendous. They were positive, compassionate, patient when we were impatient, and totally dedicated to finding my father. He owes his life to them, and we can’t ever thank them enough. Our family is making an appropriate donation to Lowland Rescue, and we would strongly encourage everyone to do so: what happened to us could happen to any family.

Donate to Lowland Rescue (via their site)


Filed under Personal


As surprising as it always is to me, I’m occasionally reminded that I don’t know everything. But when I’m shown not to know how my own website works, it’s more humbling.

A commenter on one of my blog posts recently pointed out the number of tracking applications which were in operation. I had no idea. (I’ve disabled (most of) them now).

And someone has just pointed out (and some others have confirmed) that, when visiting my blog on their iphone, it asks them whether they want to tell me their current location. I have no idea why. (I’m looking into it).

These two incidents illustrate a few things to me.

Firstly, for all my pontificating about data protection, and – sometimes – information security, I’m not particularly technically literate: this is a blog, which is the off-the-peg version, with lots of things embedded/enabled by default. Ideally, I would run and host my own site, but I do this entirely in my own time, with no funding at all.

Secondly, and following on from the first,  I am one among billions of people who run web applications without knowing a great deal about the code that they’re based on. In a world of (possibly deliberately coded) back-door and zero day vulnerabilities this isn’t that surprising. If even experts can be duped, what hope for the rest of us?

Thirdly, and more prosaically, I had naively assumed that, in inviting people to read and interact with my blog, I was doing so in a capacity of data controller: determining the purposes for which and the manner in which their personal data was to be processed. (I had even considered notifying the processing with the Information Commissioner, although I know that they would (wrongly) consider I was exempt under section 36 of the Data Protection Act 1998)). But if I don’t even know what my site is doing, in what way can I be said to determine the data processing purposes and manner? But if I can’t, then should I stop doing it? I don’t like to be nominally responsible for activities I can’t control.

Fourthly, and finally, can anyone tell me why my out-of-control blog is asking users to give me their location, and how I can turn the damned thing off?

UPDATE: 30.06.14

The consensus from lots and lots of helpful and much-appreciated comments seems to be a) that this location thingy is embedded in the wordpress software (maybe the theme software), and b) I should migrate to self-hosting.

The latter option sounds good, but I have to remind people that I DON’T KNOW WHAT I’M DOING.


The rather excellent Rich Greenhill seems to have identified the problem (I trust his judgement, but haven’t confirmed this). He says “WordPress inserts mobile-only getCurrentPosition from aka-cdn-nsDOTadtechusDOTcom/…DAC.js via adsDOTmopubDOTcom in WP ad script”…”Basically, WordPress inserts ads; but, for mobile devices only, the imported ad code also attempts to detect geo coordinates”.

So it dooes look like I, and other bloggers, who can’t afford the “no ads” option, are stuck with this unless or until we can migrate away.

UPDATE: 11.07.14

We are informed that the code which asks (some) mobile users for their location when browsing this blog has now been corrected. Please let me know if it isn’t.


Filed under Data Protection, Information Commissioner, Personal, social media, tracking