The Internet of Things: Hello, Big Brother?

The New Weapon of Choice over Your Privacy?

The U.S. Senate is holding a series of hearings on the role of technology in our lives and the potential threat to our privacy. This week it was about “The Internet of Things”, or IoT, defined as when gadgets, rather than people, hook into the Internet to share information. Examples include home security systems, health-tracking watches, and automobiles.


The question is: whose role it is to recognize when the gadgets’ ABILITY to gather and send (and, of course, store) personal information has pushed the boundary of what SHOULD be gathered, sent, and stored, given the plethora of security breaches recently, both private and public.


I guarantee you, only a handful of entrepreneurs and engineers halt in their tracks and ask the pertinent questions, such as, “Why are we creating this? Who will control the data and for what purpose? Is it right to capture such detailed information about any civilian population? Who might exploit that information in the future, and could it evolve into a dangerous practice? Can we secure it? Should the government control it? If so, what will happen to our freedoms?”


Years ago, I had a heated debate with an executive from Acxiom Corporation, then a little-known Arkansas company that provided a simple business service. They collected databases from each credit card company, including retailers with their own branded card, merged the information on their computers, and re-sold the information to direct marketers who wanted to spend their dollars reaching a specific target audience.


This executive refused to admit that there could be any future danger in aggregating all these profiles about individuals. After all, who’d want to know about a single person, when the goal was to sell a volume of products to many? However, after adding in a little demographic data from the U.S. Census, and tossing in the tools and the reach of the Internet, this tiny company grew into a powerhouse of data collection, setting a precedent for any and every company to capture what data they could.


When the Internet changed its business model from subscription services like America Online to advertising-supported pages, all that information became the new 21st century currency. The new Internet of Things now becomes a marketplace of one, where anyone with something to sell may deliver it to our homes on a virtual silver platter, at the low, low price of compromising our privacy and security . . . and possibly our liberty.


In the name of protecting the individual, the government all too often rushes forward to help but ends up stripping away our freedoms instead. The effort makes the politicians happy, as it validates their power position. It makes the businesses happy, because it allows them to keep selling their wares. But will it make YOU happy?


Somewhere in the world, a computer will monitor and record your every car trip, your exercise or lack of it, your guilty snacking binges, and your favorite TV show. Tack on which books provide you guilty pleasures, and we’ll morph from the land of the free into a totalitarian state overnight. Who might value this information, and what’s its ultimate cost? As the younger generation is discovering, an innocuous post on Facebook about a wild night partying in high school might keep an employer from hiring them years later. Is the employer justified? Why or why not?


Can you predict your future? I can’t. And neither can the technologists, nor our elected officials, no matter their assurances. Be very careful about incorporating the Internet of Things into your life. It might end up turning into the very weapon of your demise.


For a glimpse into my imaginary world where top-secret technology is pursued by surprising interests for nefarious purposes, check out my new suspense thriller Private Offerings, available 9/15/15 everywhere.

(This article originally appeared on Balcony 7 Media & Publishing’s SaucyJaw.com)

 

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