As we stand, in the first quarter of the 21st century, we have found ourselves in love with technology. So much in love that we rush out at the first chance of getting the latest technology, standing in queues overnight, just for a glimpse of the new iPhone or game. But, perhaps we are reaching the end of the honeymoon period and now need to take stock of where we stand with our ardent lover, technology.
Technology has taken over our lives. We use it from dusk to dawn. The alarm on our smart phone is set to wake us up; we drive to work in our Internet connected car. Many of us sit at our computers much of the day, or use them as an adjunct to our work. Throughout the day we play on social media platforms, like Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. In the evening, we order a cab using the Uber app and go to our friends to watch a streamed video from their Netflix account. We may do some exercise helped along by a tech wearable like a Fitbit. We sleep; perhaps the only time when we aren’t ourselves, web-enabled.
Much of the technology we use is connected in some way, to some other technology or the Internet. This highway of data traffic is almost as if our very being is electronically linked to every other being. If we could visualize this, we may see a myriad of silvery, umbilical like, cords, reaching out, touching other cords and passing on who we are, where we’ve been and what we are doing.
Where Did We Go Right?
We are spoilt. We have gadgets galore. We have an app to do almost everything. We are bathed in a sea of cyber-tech and we love it. The number of available mobile apps for Android and IOS are 1.6 million and 1.5 million respectively – that’s a lot of jobs being done by some piece of software or other.
And then there are the new technologies, like wearable’s and the Internet of Things. Gartner predict that by 2020 there will be almost 21 billion connected devices, that’s three for every living person alive today. As for wearable’s analyst firm, IDC predict that by 2019 there will be over 126 million units being shipped per year.
The technology market is massive. Wearable technologies, like the iWatch and Fitbit will be worth around 31 billion by 2020 and that represents just a small fraction of the overall market scope. The industry creates countless numbers of jobs, with 6.5 million tech jobs in the USA and with those jobs paying some of the highest salaries in industry. Technology is here for a while yet.
The Cost of True Love
The adage, “nothing is certain but death and taxes” should now be extended to say, “nothing is certain but death, taxes and data needed to run our technology and lives”. With technology now being entrenched in our daily living, this means that we have to service this technology and that is done using data, usually our personal data. The Fitbit for example, is a health wearable that collects and shares personal health data about us. Don’t get me wrong; Fitbit is a great app for encouraging fitness. It tracks your daily activity, monitors your sleep patterns, checks your pulse rate and even monitors your geo-location, sharing all of this data with your computer, or smart phone, via the Internet. The trouble lies in the data tracking and sharing. Fitbit has not been without its privacy issues. Its privacy practices were scrutinized in late 2014 over their potential to sell sensitive data onto third parties like insurance companies. To counter this, Fitbit employed privacy lobbyists to protect their interests and have made changes to enhance the privacy settings in their products. But still, Fitbit generated data is now being used as evidence in civil litigations, it seems nothing is truly ‘private’.
Radio Frequency Identification or RFID is an area of technology that has been hanging around in its modern form for well over a decade. If you’ve been to a conference, you often get an RFID badge to gain entry to the show. RFID is used in animals for identification purposes if the animal is lost. There is even talk of RFID being inserted into dentures for help in recognition of bodies during post mortem – the paper on this can be found here: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2885600/ . There are a lot of rumors that surround RFID, including a recent one about babies being RFID chipped. However, we shouldn’t just dismiss ideas like this, science fiction has a habit of becoming science fact and having a human RFID chipped isn’t so far fetched. In fact, in 2004 the FDA approved a RFID chip by U.S. company, Verichip (now rebranded as PositiveID) for human use, including for use in, “personnel tracking, providing data for electronic health records and to monitor patients. The privacy implications of this don’t need to be spelt out. Human embedded RFID does turn us into our Internet enabled device – we will become part of the Internet of Things. Without thought about how to minimize or protect these data, we will find our personal details shared and ultimately open for all to see or for thieves to steal.
The point is that we take technology and the privacy of the data used by that technology for granted. Even dealing with something as seemingly innocuous and trustworthy as a nonprofit organization comes with potential privacy problems. There are over 1.5 million nonprofits organizations in the USA. By their very nature, charities work on a limited budget. Many charities offer online donations, or have interested parties sign up for newsletters and so on – in other words, user accounts are created and personally identifying information is collected. Nonprofits are being targeted by cybercriminals because they handle user identity data. In fact earlier this year there was a massive breach against the Urban Institute that affected around 700,000 users – the breach possibly being linked to the IRS breach in April this year.
Technology Vs. Privacy – Who Will Win?
We are perhaps at a turning point in history. The digital revolution has been exciting, opened up new ways of making a living and created interesting gadgets that we all love. Some even make our lives simpler. We need to ask ourselves, however, is this all worth it. Are we happy to take the technology, but sacrifice our privacy, or at least put it at great risk? If we look at Internet researchers, PewResearchCenter statistics on attitudes towards privacy, they show that, 86% of Internet users take steps to protect their identity and 68% of users don’t believe that current laws do enough to protect them. It seems that the tide is turning and that perhaps the honeymoon period is over. The public’s personally identifying information has been shown time and again, especially in recent years, to be at great risk, not just from cybercrime but also from overzealous app designers wishing to share the data they collect with anyone interested and wiling to pay. It is time for us to stand up and say, “we love technology, but we love privacy too – we want both”. Consumer power is known to shift mountains and forcing technology designers to take privacy seriously will allow us to keep our love affair with technology alive.