If you had to choose between being safe or being free, which would you pick?
That may be a little extreme, but it certainly paints a picture of many of the decisions we’re facing today. Unfortunately, we live in a world where there are an ever increasing number of foreign and domestic threats. Governments and law enforcement are looking to protect us, but we often feel their techniques and strategies infringe on our freedoms and limit our privacy.
Fueling this environment are the new devices we use everyday. Because of their constant Internet connectivity and many features, law enforcement is looking to use the data they collect to crack down on criminal behavior. This article isn’t meant to be a big brother prophesy, or point an accusing finger at any organization, but rather to inform people of the dual effects of modern technology. The following are just a few popular tech trends that could be used to impose on our freedoms.
Mobile Technology and Apps
Most people aren’t aware that default permissions on their apps and phones allow developers to share browsing habits, personal information, contacts, and other information, with almost any advertiser looking to pay for it. Think about it, how many apps require you to log in with a personal profile? All your recorded information is up for grabs, making you accessible to organizations you’ve never even heard of.
Even Twitter recently announced data licensing as a core piece of their business model. In this era of big data, Twitter is hoping to profit from its users by selling access to their tweets. Also, one step further, geo-targeting is becoming increasingly popular. Advertisers can use the location services on your phone to send you promotions specific to where you are at that moment. If advertisers can do it, what is stopping the feds from doing the same?
The Internet of Things in our Homes
The Internet of Things (IoT), which refers to a network of interconnected objects always online, is an interesting concept (as well as a huge security nightmare). On one hand, it offers tremendous benefits, like the ability to adjust the thermostat remotely and having your toaster notify you if its parts are failing. The downside is that your Smart TV could be watching your every reaction to the latest season of Walking Dead.
Recently Samsung came under fire for its interactive voice command features. Essentially, like speaking with Google Now or Siri, users can speak and interact with their TV. Samsung stores searches in a database, using the information to make modifications and future improvements. The problem is that normal conversations could be mistaken for searches, which would then be recorded and stored. This concern isn’t exclusive to Samsung. Any of the new IoT devices could accidently record our information, and we are never quite sure who is on the other end to receive it.
The Age of Biometrics
It’s fun to look back at classic spy movies, when secret agents like James Bond had to bypass fingerprint scanners to gain access to top secret weapons facilities. Now, that same tech is used to protect our iPhones.
Biometrics, meaning using metrics to measure human characteristics, has become a common form of identification and security. Fingerprint scanners, iris readers and face recognition software are becoming more and more common in the devices we use everyday. Even social media is adopting this technology. Facebook is working on a program called DeepFace, which is able to create 3D models of your face, and then use that information to recognize when you appear in pictures. While it might improve security measures, it’s concerning to think companies could have access to information that identifies you as a person. That same technology could be used in security cameras to recognize where you are at all times, like a real-world version of Minority Report.
This convergence of the era of big data analytics and increased national security concerns raises questions of future privacy initiatives. Right now, we are developing tools meant to improve our lives and make things a little easier. However, companies and governments also realize these devices are powerful data collection tools. No one wants to be a victim, but at the same time, having people unknowingly monitor our every move isn’t a welcome thought either.
Where do you stand on the technology vs. privacy debate? Share your thoughts in the comments.