Wednesday, 11 February 2015

The Internet of Things and the Loss of Privacy

The world was outraged, and rightly so, when news broke of the US National Security Agency's (NSA) extensive spying on enemies and allies alike however, why is anyone surprised?  We live in a world that is now being dominated by what is affectionately known as the 'Internet of Things', a world in which the loss of privacy is to be expected.

Illustrating where we are in the Internet of Things is news from Samsung that some of their new cutting-edge television sets will be listening in on the private conversations of customers.  Samsung's announcement will undoubtedly spark outcry among gadget lovers none too happy with the South Korean company monitoring their conversations.  As for Samsung, it claims that their new televisions will only be listening when users press a specific remote control button and speak into a microphone.

What is the point of such listening?  Samsung apparently wants to analyse the speech in order to glean any data that could help it improve marketing.  If the company is telling the truth, analysing consumer conversations is just the latest step in a Big Data strategy that is turning the world's consumers into objects of statistical analysis.

The Institute of Engineering and Technology's Professor Will Stewart says that the current incarnation of Samsung’s listening capabilities is probably harmless however he predicts that this may not hold true in the future, as more TV manufacturers follow Samsung's lead.

Where will it end?  It will not!

The modern era of data communications and worldwide networking means that individual privacy, as we once knew it, no longer exists.  Just Google your own name and you will know exactly what we mean.  The Internet stopped being a harmless commercial and social enterprise years ago.  It is now a digital behemoth that collects personal data and spreads it around the world indiscriminately.

Realistic View

The point of this blog post is not to sound like a paranoid IT services tech fearful of the government looking through his windows - rather, it is simply to bring to light the reality that we live in a new world in which the expectation of privacy does not truly exist.  It is a new reality that we must come to grips with unless we are willing to dismantle the Internet of Things and go back to life before electronic gadgets.  We doubt that very few people would go for that strategy.

So where does that leave us?  It leaves consumers in the position of having to pay close attention to the progressive nature of privacy intrusions for the purposes of drawing a line in the sand.  By that, we mean each individual consumer must decide what his or her limits of privacy intrusion are.  For some people, purchasing a TV that can listen in on private conversations crosses the line.  Others will be more than happy to allow the intrusion for the sake of enjoying what the new televisions have to offer.  It is all about individual tolerance and risk aversion.  That's where we are; like it or not.

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