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Mrs Tiggywinkle's Data Footprint

Mrs Tiggywinkle's Data Footprint

The collection and use of consumer data has developed a bad reputation. However, perhaps this reputation is unfair and there are, in fact, lessons to be learned.

What better way to learn these lessons than from.....hedgehogs?

Hedgehogs are native to the UK and, thanks in part to Beatrix Potter, most people are really quite fond of them. However, in the last 60 years, the numbers of hedgehogs has fallen from around 36 million to under one million. It's well documented that other species of UK wildlife are also in trouble. The red squirrel has long received sympathy for being bullied by its more substantial (fat) American cousin, with several red squirrel protection sanctuaries across the country. However, the UK's first large hedgehog sanctuary has opened this week in Solihull.

The population and distribution of the spiky residents is being monitored in order to help understand how we can best protect hedgehog numbers from further decline. The hedgehogs are encouraged to walk through tunnels, with tasty treats inside. The floor of the tunnel is an ink pad and paper, and when the hedgehogs walk on the paper, their imprint remains, allowing scientists to track where they've been, favourite spots and the area within which they travel.

It occurs to me that in using the internet, we are all little digital hedgehogs, leaving imprints which are monitored by cookies and other software which track our behaviour. They provide information on the websites we visit and the products we peruse, as well as the number of hits each website receives.

The reality is that as we each snuffle about our day to day lives, huge volumes of data is being collected and used by both public and private organisations. There are countless stories in the press each week about how “big brother is watching” or “your TV is listening”: it all sounds very sinister. My own view is that the collection and analysis of data can, and does, benefit the consumer. Every good recommendation you’ve ever received from Amazon or i-Tunes Genius comes from following one of your digital footprints and analysing the behaviour patterns of customers with similar tastes.

Whilst it is perhaps annoying that before being permitted to enter a website, you have to agree to comply with its cookie policy, or other terms and conditions, suppliers have to use the technology available to them, in order to target an interested audience and maximise their chance of making a sale.

Hopefully, the UK hedgehog population will benefit from the new sanctuary, and the results from the footprint tunnels will help us to save Mrs Tiggywinkle and her companions. Just as the online suppliers need to take positive action if they are to see improved sales results, in supporting the hedgehogs, so must we: there’s no point curling up in a ball about it!

Caroline Pigott is a specialist Intellectual Property, Technology and Media Solicitor. We are always delighted to talk without obligation about whether we might meet your needs. Call Caroline on 01382 229111 or email

Posted by Caroline Pigott


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