The increasing ubiquity of the internet of things has put a new focus on data privacy. To many, the digital internet still isn’t as real as the outside world. At the same time, big data is all very well when it’s harvested quietly and stealthily. However, when your things tattle on you behind your back, it’s a very different matter altogether.
Think ahead to the time when 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. Imagine computers were blowing in the wind. Imagine if they were literally everywhere.
The phrase “data exhaust” will no longer be a figure of speech; it’ll be a literal statement. Your data will exist in a halo of devices surrounding you, tasked with providing 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.
The current rush to connect devices to the internet has led to sloppy privacy and sloppy security. This situation can’t continue, because if everything is smart, everything will soon be measuring, calculating, and weighing your life. Big data will be distributed and ubiquitous. Suddenly its not just your email or the photographs of your cat but your heart rate, your respiration rate, and how you slept—and with whom—the night before.
The internet of things is coming. Alasdair Allan explains why it brings with it a whole new set of big data problems that can’t be ignored.
Alasdair Allan is a scientist, author, hacker, tinkerer, and journalist who has recently been spending a lot of time thinking about the internet of things, which he thinks is broken. He is the author of a number of books and sometimes also stands in front of cameras. You can often find him at conferences talking about interesting things or deploying sensors to measure them. A couple of years ago, he rolled out a mesh network of five hundred sensor motes covering the entirety of Moscone West during Google I/O. He’s still recovering. A few years before that, he caused a privacy scandal by uncovering that your iPhone was recording your location all the time, which caused several class-action lawsuits and a US Senate hearing. Several years on, he still isn’t sure what to think about that.
Alasdair sporadically writes blog posts about things that interest him or, more frequently, provides commentary in 140 characters or less. He is a contributing editor for Make magazine and a contributor to O’Reilly Radar. Alasdair is a former academic. As part of his work, he built a distributed peer-to-peer network of telescopes that, acting autonomously, reactively scheduled observations of time-critical events. Notable successes included contributing to the detection of what was—at the time—the most distant object yet discovered, a gamma-ray burster at a redshift of 8.2.
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