Privacy and the internet… of things… of everything… of us?

Information is power

Chairman Mao once wrote that “[t]he Guerrilla moves through people like a fish through water”.

People say today that we are all just particles of water on the internet, doing harmless things such as liking our mate’s status on Facebook, we’re not fish, we’re not hacking, we don’t do anything that anyone should give a damn about right? 

Not quite.

Remember the last post on here about Taylor’s not so distant future world? Another example comes to mind:

A smart fridge records every item you place in its icicled enclosure.  It knows where you bought it, having wirelessly linked up to your receipts stored in the cloud.  It knows when it expires, can suggest dishes it will be good in, “have you ever thought of adding some mixed spice with your mince dish”? 

It’s linked via the cloud to your television, in a fashion they talk to one another. 

While you’re watching the latest rugby match you grab a Heineken.

Who owns this information?  Can the fridge company sell the information of when you drank that Heineken to an advertising agency, along with your television data?  That ad agency then knows everything you eat and watch, but not just that, there are cameras in your house, for security, and because most things you own are gesture operated of course.  Can that same ad agency access your facial expressions during the game and intermission, can it personalize its advertising that much?  Is that conditioning or effective neo-liberal marketing?

What about health insurance companies?  You were watching the game at 4am, following 8 beers you had from the fridge, that wonderful dispensary.  Should your insurance premiums go up because they consider your eating and sleeping habits unhealthy?  What if they mistakenly think you’re an alcoholic?  

This is the internet of things, things talking to things about other things, and the human beings who own the things. 

This future is close.  Don’t think twenty years, or even ten, it’s a few. Here are other examples:

  • Smart cups like Vessyl know and track everything that you drink.
  • Unbeknownst to you, when you drive past some utility poles they record what radio station you’re listening to and sell that information to advertisers.
  • We are starting to control our devices with gestures with cool tools like Myo.
  • Smart homes while still expensive provide an interesting solution to our lack of energy efficiency.

What does this mean for privacy?  Who owns this information about you?  Is “Big Brother” soon to be a corporate reality?

It comes down to whether or not you are comfortable with this information being collected about you (ie Big Data), and used for the purposes outlined above and in the post about Taylor. Some recent (slightly apocalyptic) quotes  from researches in this field give cause for concern:

 “The danger will be in loss of privacy and a reduction of people into numbers: the dark side of the quantified self,” wrote Andrew Chen, a computer information systems professor of at Minnesota State University.  Peter R. Jacoby, an English professor at San Diego Mesa College, summed up this line of thought bluntly: “By 2025, we will have long ago give up our privacy. The Internet of Things will demand–and we will give willingly–our souls.”  (credit – http://www.wired.com/2014/05/iot-report/)

The response?

There are two schools of thought, one of which I would argue is wrong:

  • The first is made up of those which adhere to the fallacy that our legislators will come up with a solution to this arguable invasion of privacy (the recording of all this personal information) – that we have nothing to worry about as the information will end up in the right hands, used responsibly, under the right guidance.  Let’s call proponents of this thought “Hopefuls”.
  • The second is that we should act now, pushing legislation through which restricts the use of information.  This has to be correct.   Let’s call the proponents of this view “Worriers”.

The Practicalities

I wish I were a Hopeful, but I can’t see it.  Privacy as a right was created through a breach of what had come before.  The invention of the Kodak camera in around 1880, created a whole new idea of what was personal.  The advent of the camera resulted in people feeling the need to protect their identity, their faces, the desire to want to hide their figures from unwanted exposure the – “you can’t photograph me in my swimsuit”– mentality.

In 1775 the American post system was created, but mail was routinely opened or stolen in transit – until it was made illegal in 1782.

Or more recently we are retrospectively dealing with issues like whether data is a property right, and net neutrality.

The Worriers know this.  Legislation is slow.  Policy is slower.  The government is reactionary to technological change, they are rarely ahead of it (the invention of the telephone, railroads… the list goes on, the law responds, it rarely creates).

If the internet of things continues to develop at its current rate, by the 2020 we will have between 26 to 30 billion devices connected to the internet.  And, that’s without much of the world even having constant access to the internet, supposedly the develop world’s latest human right.

What is happening?

Nothing.  Well, no that’s dramatic (please tell me it captured your attention).  Not nothing, there is some policy papers out such as the recent Whitehouse report “Big Data and Privacy: A Technological Perspective” May 2014 (from which I’ve lifted a few ideas for this post).    But not enough is being done, and it’s due to apathy.

Without going into detail (this post is supposed to be brief) the New Zealand election brought Edward Snowden’s internet presence into town, but it was too late, we had already legislated away some of our privacy – most people in their 20s and 30s didn’t bat an eyelid, at least initially.

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(Lol, image credits – http://thedailyblog.co.nz/2013/08/13/john-key-hes-listening/, http://i1.cpcache.com/product/300953354/big_brother_is_watching_you_posters.jpg)

What’s the solution?

If you’re a Worrier dispelling the apathy and legislating hard privacy rights – while we still can.

If you’re a Hopeful, relying on the belief that society and those that govern will come to the right balance between privacy and social good.

But, to be honest, the concept of privacy and whether it is changing for millennials is the subject of this blog’s next post.

Conclusion

I might be water right now, but what if someone reading this combines this article with my search history, the recent background reading I’ve done on IS, and the fertilizer I’ve bought for my old man’s new garden, and I’m accidentally labelled a fish swimming brazenly through society, an internet guerilla?

Shouldn’t we be starting from a hard place of rights, legislation protecting the consumer, questioning the use of power, before we give up all our rights.

If I’m honest, I’m not sure what the solution is, but I feel more comfortable holding onto what rights I have now, in case I need them.

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