Meet the Expert: Bill Mew

The digital privacy campaigner thought he was going to have a lifetime career in the Royal Navy but left the armed services after a long illness. “It was a big lesson to me: things don’t always turn out the way you expect.”

Bill Mew

How did you become successful?

I became incredibly passionate about privacy and how data is being used and it just happened with the experience that I picked up over the years it was all immediately applicable. I’d had a long career in IBM for 16 years.

It was never my aim to be who I am at this present moment. I set out to be a weapons engineering officer of the Royal Navy. At the age of 18 I signed on for 22 years but I was convinced I had decided that was what I’d be doing for the rest of my career. 

Four years later I became incredibly ill. I had Crohn’s disease and spent a year in hospital, then came out of the armed services. It was a big lesson to me: things don’t always turn out the way you expect. 

What do you think is your greatest achievement in business?

My work around digital privacy. No one took privacy seriously. No one was thinking from a personal perspective how they could protect their data. Or from a corporate perspective, how they could act in an ethical manner. 

With some of the campaigning we’ve done we’ve managed to hold government and large corporations to account. We’ve even been able to overturn the big data sharing treaty between Europe and America which was failing to protect the privacy of European citizens.

Therefore we have had a massive impact and you cannot fail these days to be aware of privacy. To a large extent that’s thanks to a lot of the privacy activists and some teams I’ve worked with, like None of Your Business who have managed to achieve that. 

What is the one essential business lesson every entrepreneur should know?

You have to have a passion for what you are doing. If you have a passion, then work will be easy, time will pass quickly, everything will fall into place. 

When advising young people as they set out to find something to do in life and to find a career if you can help them find something that they’re passionate about, it won’t actually feel like work at all.

What do you get out of mentoring?

I get to speak to some really interesting people doing interesting projects. From my perspective it’s interesting to see some of the approaches that organisations are using to make a difference in their social environment and how innovative they’re being.

Which social causes are you passionate about and why?

I would have to say it is all around digital ethics and privacy. There are ways in which technology needs to be regulated and organisations need to be held to account.

When you are surveilling people’s location and profiles, that can be used in a really dangerous way. Let’s say there was an anti-government protest and somebody decided a crime happened in the middle of it in order to capture the identities of all of those that were present, then that could be used really cynically against those protesting. 

A lot of the data that we share doesn’t really matter. If I lose my password, I can always reset it, but there are biometric data out there: your fingerprints, your DNA, your face. You can’t reset those if that data is held by someone and then lost to criminals in some way. Then you are vulnerable to identity theft for the rest of your life. You can’t reset your DNA!

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