Add to this many new and powerful data collection techniques – not just machine learning systems but also spyware in the IoT – and you have the “perfect” environment for up-and-coming companies to get rich harvesting data.
The Bad news For Consumers – more tech means less privacy
While these developments enable tech start-ups, they are bad news for consumers. With more companies than ever before collecting data, the places and spaces where we can be genuinely private are decreasing by the minute.
Let’s look at my day.
- Wake up to my smart alarm. OK, Alexa/Google/Siri What is the weather and what is on my schedule today?
- Turn on the TV for some breakfast pap while using a smart fridge and other IoT appliances
- Dress, put on my smartwatch and use my smartphone (my constant pocket companion) to arm the alarm/security cameras and open/close my garage door
- Drive to work using my smart GPS and Apple/Android smart car passing hundreds of speed and surveillance cameras and tracked by traffic satellites
- Arrive at work and log-on to a computer
- Order coffee/lunch via the Uber app or the smart screen at the store
I could go on but that few hours generates gigabytes of data about me – all passively. Advertisers have a field day applying machine learning and artificial intelligence to target me with advertisements – I had a strange compulsion to have a chocolate latte and a sub for lunch!
OK it’s the wild west, but we can tame it
Lawmakers are slowly waking up to this reality, but they need to grow a pair. Because instead of fixing the root problem, they are simply legitimising the collection and use of your data.
In Australia, the ACCC is suing Google for misleading users about data acquisition. Microsoft has called for the federal regulation of facial recognition, while Apple CEO Tim Cook has argued that the FTC should step in and create a clearinghouse to register all data brokers.
Many countries are passing laws that legitimise this form of data collection. Australia has recently passed such laws. And while it sounds great that tech companies are calling for greater regulation too, this might also be a cynical move to limit opportunities for smaller companies to enter the market.
To my mind, all the action so far amounts to asking the fox to mind the chickens!
There remains a great deal of ignorance about just how much information is collected from unwitting consumers. Study after study has demonstrated that users still don’t know what is collected, let alone it is being sold, traded, and shared.
If you can’t tell when the government is watching you, you are unlikely to be able to grapple with the extraordinary lack of commercial ethics of data collection or spot a start-up that wants access to inappropriate levels of information about you.
The solution is really so very simple
“If the product is free, the product is you” is the root cause. Well, what if the product was not free to those that demanded privacy? That is an option you don’t have now.
Before you choke on the concept of paying anything let me tell you that in the grand scheme of things that it would amount to a few cents, maybe a few dollars – a micropayment – based on the income big tech would have received for your data. And I suspect many users would not bother to demand privacy, so we won’t see skyrocketing costs to use FAANG et al.
It would simply require legislation to include a privacy flag on your data – kind of like a ‘do not call register’. Big tech could still collect everything and still provide you with tailored services but could not sell it – use it against you!
If we took that a little further (and big tech already have a unique identifier – probably your mobile number) to tie disparate data sources together it would not be so hard to have a ‘Do not sell registry’ that could also act as a real identity registry to stop phishers and scammers.
GadgetGuy’s take – we are so far past George Orwell’s 1984. More tech means less privacy
Privacy is a fundamental human right. Big tech seems to believe that we will forgo that to use its services (have you noticed how the same adverts seem to follow you forever?)
It also matters because personal data is already the basis of extremely important decisions that have life-changing consequences. This includes whether you can maintain your health care benefits, get a loan, that perfect job, or granted bail.