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Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Big brother in your eyes

Imagine a world in which every major company in America flew hundreds of thousands of drones overhead, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, collecting data on what Americans were doing down below.
It's a chilling thought that would engender howls of outrage.

Now imagine that millions of Americans walk around each day wearing the equivalent of a drone on their head: a device capable of capturing video and audio recordings of everything that happens around them.
And imagine that these devices upload the data to large-scale commercial enterprises that are able to collect the recordings from each and every American and integrate them together to form a minute-by-minute tracking of the activities of millions.

That is almost precisely the vision of the future that lies directly ahead of us.
Not, of course, with wearable drones but with wearable Internet-connected equipment.
This new technology -- whether in the form of glasses or watches -- may unobtrusively capture video data in real time, store it in the cloud and allow for it to be analyzed.

Some will say these new devices are no different from existing technology, like handheld video cameras or iPhones with audio recording functions.
But there's a huge distinction.

The emerging new technology is not designed with significant storage capacity.
Instead, its default mode is for all data to be automatically uploaded to cloud servers, where aggregation and back-end analytic capacity resides.

So, who owns and what happens to the user's data? Can the entire database be mined and analyzed for commercial purposes? What rules will apply when law enforcement seeks access to the data for a criminal or national security investigation? For how long will the data be retained?

As some members of the Supreme Court recognized last year when they considered the use of only a single stream of data -- GPS location -- creating a life stream of data points paints a mosaic picture of a person's actions and habits. Who owns that mosaic?

Service providers may argue that the terms of service approved by customers will set limitations on how their collected data can be used.
But even if customers can truly make informed decisions about the storage and handling of such data, they have no right to consent to the use of data that is collected about passersbys whom they record, intentionally or not.

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