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Are These Devices Wonders of Modern Technology or Big Brother Spying on You?

smart tech or big brother?

In today’s world, people are inundated with personal technologies meant to make their life easier but that same tech could also potentially compromise their privacy and personal security. A new report from Inside Big Data took a look at how seemingly innocent and innovative technology could be used to violate privacy rights.

Modern Tech or Big Brother?

Many of the advancements in modern technology are devices that people use on the go, without giving them much thought. These devices are marketed with “smart” or “intelligent” labels, such as “smartphones” and “intelligent trackers,” among others. They are often used for convenience and digital interconnectedness.

The technology used in these personal “smart” devices could, however, be deployed to snoop on your activities and lifestyles, and relay your private data to government agencies without your knowledge. Inside Big Data warns consumers in a new article not to get carried away with every smart device that enters the market, and to be aware of each device’s capabilities and potential threats. The Inside Big Data article analyzed how these intelligent devices can be used to invade privacy. The devices they analyzed include–

  • Smartphones
  • Wearable fitness gadgets
  • Smart speakers & home electronics
  • Social media apps
  • Automobiles
  • Lavatories, etc.

Smartphones

Smartphones come with a plethora of apps that are developed to make your lifestyle a little easier. These apps can be synced with even more apps and with your device to determine a wide range of information, from health information to shopping habits, dating life, business information and everything in between. Smartphones also give you access to social media channels on the Internet where everything about your life is fed to the world to track. Many of these apps on installation request for permission to access other parts of your device to be able to function, but this creates a synced platform that can expose you to lays you to potential information abuse.

The danger here is that downloaded and installed apps on your mobile devices could secretly transmit their data about you to bigger companies for purposes unbeknownst to you and even sell that info to the government. When you install the apps, often you agree to a series of terms and conditions that very few even bother to read. You could effectively be waiving away your privacy and giving your data to these apps without knowing who might buy your information from them. If the government buys this data, it could track what you do and how or when and where you do it without your knowledge or expressed consent.

Wearable Fitness Gadgets

Many people wear smartwatches and other wearable fitness gadgets that monitor your heart rate, blood sugar levels, physical fitness levels and exercise routines. Fitness trackers are popular with athletes and bodybuilders, as well as physically active persons, who wear these fitness gadgets to monitor their wellbeing, track their activity levels and fitness activities. These technologies often use geolocation resources that track how far you have traveled in a particular part of town, with motion sensors and health trackers that monitor your health and activity levels.

Since you have permitted these wearable gadgets to “read” you, analyze your exercise progress and often geolocate or track you, all of that information can be relayed to third parties. The geolocation technology could tell the government or some company that buys your data where you are at any given time. 

Last year Strava, an exercise tracking company, published a ‘heat map’ of their users’ activity around the world. What Strava didn’t realize is that many soldiers wore their devices and when they published their heat map, they published the location of soldiers around the world wearing the device.

In majorly populated areas this wasn’t a major problem as it was hard to identify any single source or identify a particular point on a heat map as belonging to a soldier. But when points showed up in unpopulated areas in war-torn countries, Strava created a major security concern. Strava was giving away the location of soldiers that wasn’t common knowledge, exposing them to enemy attacks.

Smart Speakers

With Amazon Echo, Alexa, Siri and Google Assistant all entering the intelligent home electronics market, the proliferation of technology listening to your conversations is growing. Since these devices are voice-activated, they continually listen to your household conversations without allegedly doing anything you know of until you speak a wake-word to activate them. On speaking the wake-word, they receive and transmit voice commands to servers where a definite response is elicited.

However, there are potential risks where these “listening” devices could glean household and other private conversations and send them to government agencies to monitor you. Installing devices that listen to and monitor your conversation for wake-words is essentially setting up a home network for someone to hack into and eavesdrop on you. Instead of tapping phone lines, hackers could tap your Amazon echo.

Smart Toilets

In fact, there is now a smart toilet that analyzes users’ urine. It can detect information about the users’ overall health from the urine, including even pregnancy, and detect the presence of drugs or alcohol. The toilet can then transmit the results to third-parties all without the knowledge of the user if they haven’t been informed they are using a smart toilet.

With this intelligent lavatory, employers can track if an employee uses drugs or alcohol. The toilets could be used for any number of people who want to monitor the lifestyle choices of others. As another example, parents could use the toilet to keep track of their kids and whether they use drugs or alcohol.

Digital License Plates

California is the first state partaking in a pilot program to test the usage of digital license plates. The idea is that digital license plates would streamline the processes to pay tolls, register your car, renew a license plate and generally make things easier for drivers.

There is a growing concern, however, that digital license plates are just another way for the government to track you. If the government can digitally track your license plate what’s to keep the government from fining you if you go over the speed limit?

Or if you have your bank account linked to your digital license plate information, then you have now just created another avenue for someone to hack into your financial information.

China has a social credit system where their citizens are ranked based on their behaviors and rewarded or penalized as their ranking goes up or down. In the U.S., as we give the government more information about our behaviors we could one day end up in a world where the ability to receive government assistance is based on the data collected from you.

Smart but Perilous Future

As Inside Big Data wrote, to protect yourself from unwittingly allowing modern technologies to pass off your private data to large corporations or government agencies, it is best to “turn off data-sharing components that aren’t essential for a device’s functionality”, and also read any installed app’s permissions before clicking the “I accept” button.

Awareness, essentially, is the key. As our world becomes more and more interconnected and technologically advanced, awareness of the potential pitfalls is necessary. Smart devices may make our lives easier, until all of that information collected about us and used to make our life easier falls into the wrong hands.

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