In the digital age, we should not expect our online activities to remain private

Author: Kaja Molinksa


Has the expectation of privacy become outdated? Over half the world’s population uses social media [Ref: Datareportal] and there are now many official ‘track and trace’ apps to combat coronavirus infections [Ref: The Atlantic]. Many today declare they are worried about privacy, but continue to use services that hoover up their data, a contradiction termed the ‘privacy paradox’ [Ref: Guardian]. From the proliferation of connected devices (in 2020, 34 per cent of UK households had a smart speaker [Ref: Statista]), to taking advantage of the benefits of targeted advertising [Ref: Forbes], it seems that few consumers genuinely take their online privacy seriously. In fact, over 90 per cent of consumers agree to a website’s ‘terms and conditions’ without reading them [Ref: Business Insider]. One study suggested students would even choose free pizza over secure email addresses [Ref: Forbes]. 

However, from the Cambridge Analytica scandal [Ref: Guardian] to high-profile data breaches, such as in 2018 when over 300 million Marriot International guests had data including addresses and passport numbers exposed [Ref: TechAdvisor], we still profess to “loathe that our data is mined and scraped” [Ref: New York Times]. For many, privacy remains an indispensable right and safeguard against overbearing governments – such as in Belarus, where the privacy-focused app Telegram allows protestors to organise against the government [Ref: The Economist]. For others, such as governments attempting to track and locate infectious persons during the coronavirus pandemic, online privacy stands in the way of keeping us all safe [Ref: The Atlantic]. Where should the line be drawn?

Continue reading “In the digital age, we should not expect our online activities to remain private”

Climate Emergency: People should not have more than two children


In July 2019, Prince Harry announced that he and the Duchess of Sussex will not be having more than two children for environmental reasons [Source: New York Times]. Many praised the decision, especially following the creation by Blythe Pepino and Alice Brown of BirthStrike, ‘a voluntary organisation for women and men who have decided not to have children in response to the coming “climate breakdown and civilisation collapse”’ [Source: The Guardian]. Many argue that it is immoral to have children in this context, given the environmental impact of having children [Ref: Population Matters] – or even that it is wrong to bring children into a world where they will face the results of climate disasters [Source: The Guardian]. However, many argue that population control will not make much of a difference to world emissions [Ref: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences] and that it is an authoritarian step, with colonial undertones, and with problematic implications for women’s freedom [Ref: Spiked].

Continue reading “Climate Emergency: People should not have more than two children”

Childhood vaccinations should be compulsory

View a PDF version of this topic guide here.


Across Europe, 2016 saw the lowest number of measles cases on record. Two years later, the number of cases, and deaths, were at their highest level for at least 15 years [REF: BMJ]. Declining vaccination rates are widely thought to be to blame. In response, the UK’s health secretary, Matt Hancock, said in May 2019 that those who spread anti-vaccine messages have ‘blood on their hands’ and that he was now considering making vaccinations compulsory [REF: Guardian]. Similarly, New York City’s mayor, Bill de Blasio, has declared a public health emergency and ordered mandatory vaccinations after the largest measles outbreak for over 20 years [REF: Telegraph].

Countries across the world are still dealing with the consequences of a controversial research paper by Dr Andrew Wakefield, published in medical journal The Lancet in 1998, which suggested a connection between the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccination and the development of autism in children [REF: FT]. Although Dr Wakefield’s research has been discredited, it is widely agreed that the doubts created about MMR [Ref: Independent] resulted in a decline in vaccinations in the UK – falling from a peak of 94 per cent for two year olds in 1995, to 78 per cent in 2003. Whilst vaccination rates in the UK have improved since then, the fears about MMR have reverberated around the world, creating a generation of so-called ‘anti-vaxxers’, and playing into trends towards, and concerns around, everything from populism [REF: Guardian] to fake news [Ref: The Big Issue].

Continue reading “Childhood vaccinations should be compulsory”

Tourism benefits the world

View a PDF version of this topic guide here.


Tourism has traditionally been seen as a way of showing appreciation for different places, peoples and cultures, but mounting fears about the impact of mass tourism have led many to question whether tourists are actually ruining the places they love. A debate about the effects of tourism on tourist destinations has been going on for some time [Ref: Telegraph], leading to the rise of related ideas like ethical tourism [Ref: Tourism Concern] or eco-tourism [Ref: International Ecotourism Society].

Most recently, there has been a renewed focus on the impact that tourism has on major or historic cities. Scottish authors Ian Rankin [Ref: Times] and Val McDermid [Ref: Edinburgh News] have clashed on whether tourism is ‘killing’ Edinburgh. Barcelona is widely considered to have been ‘ruined’ by tourism [Ref: The Guardian], and Venice has considered taking radical steps including banning sitting down in key areas to alleviate the supposed problems of overtourism [Ref: Telegraph]. Moreover, the short-stay rental service Airbnb – used by many tourists – has been accused of driving up rents for locals, turning residential areas into unofficial hotels [Ref: BBC] and even robbing cities of their individuality [Ref: The Verge].

Continue reading “Tourism benefits the world”

Humanity should fear advances in artificial intelligence

This topic guide was produced in partnership with ACCA, the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants. Find out more about ACCA here.


The increasing ability of machines in recent years to replicate or even supersede human abilities in complex tasks has been impressive. Already, artificial intelligence (AI) techniques have been used to allow machines to beat the best players in the world at both chess [Ref: Time] and the Chinese board game Go [Ref: Guardian]. IBM’s Watson system has beaten the best human players on the long-running US quiz show, Jeopardy! [Ref: Techrepublic]. While such demonstrations of the potential for AI are intriguing, there are now more and more real-world applications for AI systems. For example, voice-recognition systems like Amazon’s Alexa and Apple’s Siri use AI techniques to learn what the most suitable answer to our questions might be. Driverless cars cannot be pre-programmed for every eventuality, but need to ‘learn’ through experience using AI. Combined with huge datasets, AI-enabled machines could learn to interpret x-rays and other scans, making diagnosis quicker and more accurate [Ref: Technology Review].

But the implications for society are only just becoming apparent. In 2015, the Bank of England’s chief economist, Andrew Haldane, suggested that as many as one third of jobs in the UK – 15 million – could be lost to automation [Ref: Guardian]. Examples could include drivers replaced by autonomous vehicles and administrative staff replaced by intelligent assistants like Alexa. Moreover, it’s not just low-skill jobs that are now under threat. In the future, smarter machines and artificial intelligence could affect a much broader range of jobs, including many high-paid, high-skilled positions. Facial recognition systems, combined with ubiquitous CCTV, could call into question our privacy. The world-famous physicist, Stephen Hawking, has even claimed that ‘AI may replace humans altogether’ as a ‘new form of life’ that can rapidly learn and improve, making people obsolete [Ref: Independent]. So should we welcome AI’s potential or are the perceived threats too great?

Continue reading “Humanity should fear advances in artificial intelligence”

Populism is a threat to democracy

View a PDF version of this topic guide here.


Populism is the political buzzword of the day – with commentators, political theorists and politicians all debating its meaning and the merits of its apparent rise in recent years. From the election of Donald Trump in America [Ref: Guardian], and the rise of Marine Le Pen in France [Ref: Guardian], to left wing anti-austerity parties Syriza in Greece [Ref: New Statesman], and Podemos in Spain [Ref: BBC News], it seems that populist politics has carved a niche for itself in the political landscape. However, some fear that the rise of right wing populism in particular, is dangerous for democracy and liberal values, going so far as to suggest that it has echoes of the emergence of fascism in the 1930’s and 1940’s [Ref: Guardian].

But is it as clear cut as that – should we view populism with optimism or fear? For advocates, populism whether left or right wing, is democracy and popular sovereignty in action, and embodies the will of the people, potentially acting as a catalyst for profound and lasting political change, by disrupting consensus and re-invigorating debate. It signifies the re-engagement of the populace with politics and political ideas, and ultimately represents the, “public desire for democracy” [Ref: Spiked].

However, critics see populism in less favourable terms, with many suggesting that populist movements are empty vessels for which to carry all the vitriol that the public may have on a range of issues. One commentator concludes that populism is essentially “the belief that there are easy solutions to hard problems – [the] belief that one can escape reality.” [Ref: Atlantic] So amid the competing arguments, is populism something we should welcome as capturing the undiluted will of the people, the very essence of democracy? Or should we be wary of it as a divisive and dangerous phenomenon, attempting to distil complex societal problems into simplistic slogans with little practical application? Is populism good for politics?

Continue reading “Populism is a threat to democracy”

We should build on the Green Belt

View a PDF version of this topic guide here.


For several years, there has been an ongoing debate about the merits of the green belt [Ref: Wikipedia] in the UK, with supporters and critics clashing over its relevance and necessity in the 21st century. The issue has come to a head more recently however, with the government publishing its new housing White Paper in February [Ref: Gov.UK], with estimates suggesting that there have only been an average of 160,000 homes built per year in the UK since the 1970’s – compared to the more than 275,000 required to keep up with population growth and under supply [Ref: Gov.UK]. This has led to talk of a housing crisis, with the number of houses available, and the affordability of homes in the UK hitting the headlines [Ref: Telegraph], leading many to argue that the solution is to build on the green belt [Ref: spiked].

For supporters, building on the green belt would allow for new towns to be built [Ref: Guardian], and encourage more radical thinking on how our existing cities are constituted, permitting them to expand and become better places to live. Moreover, they argue that building on the green belt is the most sensible way to alleviate the housing crisis, because: “For too long governments have viewed the green belt as sacrosanct, but with such limited housing supply, action on the green belt is vital.” [Ref: Huffington Post]

Critics though, claim that the green belt is an important planning mechanism that prevents urban sprawl [Ref: Encyclopaedia Brittanica], and preserves the countryside, with Conservative MP Andrew Mitchell warning that: “The green belt was bequeathed to us by past generations, and we should take extraordinary care before allowing it to disappear under bricks and mortar. Once built on, it can never be restored.” [Ref: Daily Mail] They are adamant that building on the green belt is not the answer, with other suggestions mooted, such as building on previously used brown field land [Ref: Collins Dictionary], and increasing the housing density in towns and cities [Ref: Evening Standard]. Considering the competing arguments, should we build on the green belt, or would this irreversibly damage the countryside and do little to solve the housebuilding shortfall?

Continue reading “We should build on the Green Belt”

Social media sites should filter out fake news

View a PDF version of this topic guide here.


In November, Donald Trump stunned the world when he defeated Democratic rival Hilary Clinton to win the 45th presidency of the USA. In the aftermath of the result, attempting to explain what seemed like such an upset, BuzzFeed News released a report claiming that fake or hoax news stories with headlines such as “The pope loves Trump” outperformed legitimate stories in the final months of campaigning [Ref: BuzzFeed]. Thus, some commentators have claimed that untrue stories had persuaded undecided voters to vote for Trump [Ref: Independent], and highlight a broader problem facing Western Democracy after the Brexit vote, that we have entered an era of “Post-truth” politics [Ref: New Statesman].

Many see the proliferation of social media sites in the past ten years as a key component of the problem; because of instant ‘likes’ and ‘shares’, once a story is discovered to be fake or untrue, the damage is often already done. As a result, these critics argue that social media sites need to make a more concerted effort to police content and filter out stories that are untrue for the democratic good [Ref: Guardian].

However, others claim that the panic over fake news is just a ploy to shut down free speech, with one commentator arguing that applying pressure to companies like Facebook to take down certain types of news, is the first step on the slippery slope toward regulating online debate [Ref: Telegraph]. In some quarters, the fake news panic is seen as more evidence of the mainstream media failing to do its job of objectively searching for truth, and claim that the electorate are smart enough to decide for themselves what to believe, without news being filtered out online [Ref: spiked]. Does fake news online pose any serious threat to the nature of our discourse, or should we trust people to figure out what is and isn’t true? Should social media sites filter out fake news stories?

Continue reading “Social media sites should filter out fake news”

Autonomous vehicles will make driving safer

View a PDF version of this topic guide here.


In 2015 the UK’s first self-driving pod – the LUTZ Pathfinder – was made public by the government-funded Transport Systems Catapult [Ref: Transport Systems Catapult]. This follows in the wake of the launch in 2010 of technology giant Google’s Self-Driving Car project to “make driving safer, more enjoyable and more efficient.” [Ref: Google] Google asked us to imagine a point where: “Deaths from traffic accidents—over 1.2 million worldwide every year—could be reduced dramatically, especially since 94% of accidents in the U.S. involve human error” [Ref: Google], and Transport Systems Catapult additionally suggest that we could see, “a marked reduction in congestion as well as…benefits to the environment” from autonomous vehicles [Ref: Transport Systems Catapult]. The idea of ‘autonomous vehicles’ isn’t a new one [Ref: Computer History Museum], but the advent of these projects has caused both excitement and concern.

Supporters of the new technology argue that: “The strongest case for self-driving cars is safety” [Ref: Guardian], whilst others are concerned that self-driving cars, “introduce a whole new category of road user…that entirely lacks an understanding that all those road users share” [Ref: Slate], and question how this new automated technology will integrate into a human-controlled and human-centred environment. Autonomous cars have hit the headlines recently following crashes [Ref: WiredABC News] in the USA [Ref: ABC News] and the first fatality brought about as a result of this new technology [Ref: Guardian ] has brought into focus the possible limitations of the technology, with some arguing that talk of automation and ‘autopilots’ “encourage people to think that the systems are more capable than they really are, and that is a serious problem.” [Ref: Scientific American] So is the future of driving a safer, autonomous one, or is that still a futuristic dream? What are the pros and cons of this new technology?

Continue reading “Autonomous vehicles will make driving safer”

Monuments to historical figures should remain

View a PDF version of this topic guide here.


On 9 April 2015, the University of Cape Town removed a statue commemorating the 19th century British imperialist Cecil Rhodes [Ref: BBC News]. This was the culmination of a month long campaign by both students and academics as part of the ‘Rhodes Must Fall’ movement, which argued that Rhodes was more than just a symbol of past oppression – that he represented an institutional racism which continues to exist within the university today [Ref: BBC News].

Since then, the debate surrounding the legitimacy of certain historical monuments has gathered pace, with the American city of New Orleans recently voting to remove statues of prominent Confederate figures of the American Civil War, such as Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis in an attempt to confront the South’s racist past [Ref: CNN]. At Oxford University, a campaign began for the removal of a statue of Rhodes at Oriel College, with supporters observing that any steps to address the lack of black and minority students and lecturers at the institution were undermined by the monument [Ref: Guardian].

Continue reading “Monuments to historical figures should remain”