From exercise trackers to toasters monitoring toast consumption, the Internet of Things heralds a new era of Big Data where the entirety of our electronic activities is recorded in microscopic detail.
With the sector attracting investment and growth, should we worry? According to a KPMG report, 70 per cent of UK consumers are concerned that the rise of interconnected devices makes it easier for things to go wrong, while 58 per cent resent computers ruling their lives.
Al Jazeera America recently released a short graphic novel produced by journalist Michael Keller and cartoonist Josh Neufeld which looks at the issue of big data. Terms of Service addresses the idea that seemingly innocuous data can quickly become insightful when taken as a whole.
Using Foursquare, Keller paints a picture of Neufeld from his check-ins. Based on Neufeld’s numerous visits to both restaurants and doctor’s surgeries, Keller suggests the two could be related. He shows that a narrative can be created from seemingly harmless and unconnected information.
Terms of Service also talks about the insurance firm Progressive’s scheme, where they track their customers’ driving characteristics in return for lower premiums. That sounds great at first, but that little piece of tech can end up controlling you. You’ll become more cautious by driving slower or breaking earlier to get those cheaper premiums.
How much do we know – or care – about the data we’re giving away? (image credit: Esther Vargas)
If everything you use is tracked and there are few alternatives to escape this, customers may find their lives increasingly controlled by companies. When they buy a product, they could be parting with a controlling stake in their personal lives too.
Then again, we seem to show ever-diminishing concern about privacy and security. Will we end up seeing the Internet of Things as normal soon? If so, can corporations be trusted?
Liz Figueroa, a former US senator, went head-to-head with Google over its practice of scanning the emails of its Gmail users to serve relevant ads. She wanted people to be able to opt-in to this, but she was accused of 'stopping progress'.
This doesn’t bode well for future attempts at curtailing what companies can and can’t do with customer data. Even if we managed to get regulations through, companies don’t always have a great track record of adhering to them. And when they do, the results can be just as creepy.
About the author
Elizabeth Grey is a writer and editor. Check out the Elizabeth Grey website here.
Image source: Shutterstock