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Boris Johnson’s cell number problem exposes privacy risks

Reports that the prime minister’s personal phone number has been accessible online for 15 years provide a stark reminder of why we should keep track of the details we share on the internet.

A close-up image of a hand holding a smartphone, which shows a WhatsApp logo

Between the so-called cash-for-curtains scandal, allegations from his former aide Dominic Cummings and the matter of leading nations through a global pandemic, Boris Johnson has had his hands quite full of late.

What he perhaps wasn’t anticipating was the public revelation that his mobile phone number had been freely accessible online for the last 15 years, having been published on a press release issued when he was Shadow Minister for Higher Education back in 2006.

The prime minister’s use of his personal mobile has already come under public scrutiny, following leaks of his exchanges with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Sir James Dyson. However, in not keeping track of his internet footprint, Johnson has risked more than a bombardment of unsolicited WhatsApp messages.

Carelessness around personal details such as telephone numbers can open individuals up to the risk of sophisticated monitoring by hostile parties – a significant concern for any individual in the public eye. At a lower level, having a mobile phone number publicly available can compromise two factor authentication and give perpetrators of scams an easy target, either by way of contact or by providing a number for them to clone. Anyone who has participated in life online should be aware of the possibility that they’ll have left breadcrumbs of their past behind them, and those in public facing roles ought to be acutely aware of the risk this brings.

While in light of this recent news it’s likely Johnson will abandon his mobile number with great haste, it would undoubtedly have been preferable for the press release in question to have been quietly removed by an advisor before it was brought to public attention by gossip email newsletter Popbitch.

The case serves as a reminder to all of us – not least those in the public eye – to keep track of the personal details we share online and take steps to clean them up before others stumble across them. After all, there’s no telling when details may surface and into whose hands they’ll fall.

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