Hidden cost of
becoming more apparent
Uber is collecting vast amounts of revealing private data on the travels of its clients.
As we rush headlong into the era of constant connectivity through mobile devices, the price we are paying in surrendering our privacy is coming into sharper focus.
The failure of Congress to rein in government monitoring of phone and email records this week was really only a sideshow. The real news comes cascading from different directions.
As if we needed reminding, it was widely reported that the wildly popular ride sharing service Uber now can find out who sleeps with whom in real time. But it is just the tip of the iceberg; our whereabouts are constantly monitored by our cell phones that leave a trail of breadcrumbs for anyone so inclined to follow.
Then we learn that the next generation of sensors is being designed not only to monitor our whereabouts, but even our altitude.
How high are you?
The ways we are voluntarily surrendering our privacy continue to mount as we trade perceived convenience for valuable data about our every move.
The latest reminder came amidst the media flap over revelations that Uber was considering digging up dirt on a journalist’s private life as reported on Buzzfeed in Uber Executive Suggests Digging Up Dirt On Journalists
The Buzzfeed story on how an Uber executive threatened to investigate the private life of a journalist.
But, the real story was missed by most in the navel-gazing media-verse. Who knew that simply by aggregating data on where users traveled to, when, and how long they stayed and with whom, the firm could extrapolate the most intimate data of who spent the night with whom and for how long?
Expand that data over a longer period – perhaps a week or a month – among frequent users of the service, and a pattern of all one’s interpersonal interactions emerges. Who did you visit? How long did you stay? Which doctor’s office did you go to? What movie did you see? The possibilities are staggering and almost infinite.
While it is true that onboard auto navigation systems offer up similar data, it is not nearly as easy to access and aggregate as what we voluntarily surrender to Uber every time we use the service. Sure, it is fast, easy and inexpensive – if one doesn’t figure in the hidden costs.
The internet-connected home is likely to report more about our personal lives than anyone ever imagined.
The Google-owned Nest thermostat is Exhibit A, but by no means the only example.
According to its web site “the Nest Learning Thermostat learns your schedule, programs itself and can be controlled from your phone.”
This little gem quickly knows when you leave for work, how long you are gone and when you come home. “The Nest Thermostat learns what temperatures you like and builds a personalized schedule. Teach it efficient temperatures for a few days and, within a week, it’ll start setting them on its own.”
OK so far, until you realize all this data is shared over the internet with Google. Sure, it has promised not to use it against you, but it gets better: “We’ll email you a monthly Energy Report with a summary of your energy use and tips to help you save,” Nest promises.
How long will it be until this report contains ads for contractors and appliances to “help you save?”
Advertising would be a minor inconvenience, but what if this data were to fall into the wrong hands? This is not even a hypothetical, as reported in June on the web site Engadget in Nest Learning Thermostat has its security cracked open by GTVHacker a hacker who penetrated the device’s security could “monitor whether the owner is home via its motion detector, sniff network traffic, or just crank up the temperature a few degrees — all without even opening the device.”
Are Nest owners even aware of the sensitive data being sent to Google about their every private moment in their homes? This is not a frivolous question. The company does not advertise this on its web site – it certainly is not a selling point.
But as we get evermore ensnared in the marvelous convenience of hyper-connected lives, we should not forget the hidden cost. Every data point (and we all generate thousands every day of our lives) transmitted to and stored in “the cloud” describes increasingly detailed pictures of our lives.
We are marching blindly into a future where even the most personal and private information is collected and stored on a server somewhere. We should do so with a heightened awareness of the hidden cost of the perceived convenience of hyper connectivity.
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