Opinion Articles

Monday, November 15, 2010

How we could use mobile technology to destroy personal privacy

Mark Bridge writes:

Head to any major city, look around and you’ll see tourists recording their visit. Some have cameras, some have phones, some are shooting video, some may even be writing postcards.

It’s the same kind of scene when you go to a concert. The performer on stage will be looking at a sea of blue faces, all illuminated by their smartphones. This, I reckon, could be the beginning of the end of privacy.

Once upon a time you needed to go home and upload your photos, video and audio to share them. Not any more. Phones can upload straight to Facebook and Flickr, while video sharing from Bambuser and Qik – along with audio sharing from the likes of iPadio – can put your life online almost instantly. However, there’s a catch. This mobile technology isn’t just sharing a single life. It’s sharing a little piece of everyone you encounter.

And d’you know what?  Most of us don’t care. We don’t care because we’re told this is normal. Google photographs our houses. They make the valid point that it’s public data, that anyone can photograph your home. It’s what the police say on TV’s Road Wars pretty much every week. “Ignore the camera, it’s a public place, they’re allowed to film us”. Facebook Places lets advertisers know where I am. I can opt out, so where’s the big deal?

The big deal comes when you start adding this together. The big deal comes when everyone does this.

Let’s say I have a mobile phone with unlimited UK calls. That could let me stream everything I say to the internet. Everything. And everything anyone says near me. An unlimited data bundle or a high enough allowance would let me do the same with images. A video camera on my glasses – or on my Bluetooth earpiece – and everyone I meet gets broadcast on the internet. Never mind “your calls are being recorded for training purposes”. Your conversation is being recorded simply because I can. Add some face recognition software – something like Google Goggles – and I’m tagging or mapping everyone I meet. You can opt out of online services but, unless you opt out of meeting people, you’ll still be all over the internet.

Not a particularly cheery picture, some would say. I’m inclined to agree. Fortunately, not unlike the aliens in HG Wells War of the Worlds dying after catching a cold, salvation for humanity may come from an unlikely direction. Most mobile phone batteries can’t currently handle more than a couple of hours of streaming. And even when they can, we just need to wear sunglasses to avoid being recognised. Or perhaps we’d avoid online embarrassment by suffering a little real-world embarrassment and wearing a clown’s nose. That would fool the face recognition software… and it might also make the world seem a much friendlier place!

Author: The Fonecast
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