Privacy is no longer “a social norm,” but this state of affairs may not survive as the Internet of Things grows. Big data is all very well when it is harvested in the background. (And to many, the digital Internet still isn’t as real as the outside world.) But it’s a very different matter altogether when your things tattle on you behind your back. Alasdair Allan explains how the rush to connect devices to the Internet has led to sloppy privacy and security and why that can’t continue.
Picture a future where everything is smart, and everything is networked—when computing has diffused out into our environment. Imagine for a moment if there were a computer in literally every object in your house. . .in your office. . .in your neighborhood. The phrase “data exhaust” will no longer be just a figure of speech. Your data will exist in a halo of devices surrounding you, tasked to provide you with sensor and computing support as you walk along—calculating constantly, consulting with each other, predicting, anticipating your needs. You’ll be surrounded by a web of distributed sensors, computing, and data.
Because everything is smart, everything will soon be measuring, calculating, and weighing your life. Big data will be distributed and ubiquitous. Suddenly it’s not just your email or the photographs of your cat but also your heart rate, your respiration rate, and how—and with whom—you slept the night before.
The Internet of Things is coming, and with it will come a whole new set of data privacy problems that can’t be ignored.
Alasdair Allan is a scientist and researcher who has authored more than 80 peer-reviewed papers and eight books and has been involved with several standards bodies. Originally an astrophysicist, Alasdair now works as a consultant and journalist, focusing on open hardware, machine learning, big data, and emerging technologies, with expertise in electronics, especially wireless devices and distributed sensor networks, mobile computing, and the internet of things. He runs a small consulting company and has written for Make: magazine, Motherboard/VICE, Hackaday, Hackster.io, and the O’Reilly Radar. In the past, he has mesh-networked the Moscone Center, caused a US Senate hearing, and contributed to the detection of what was at the time the most distant object yet discovered.
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