The future we were warned about
For a long time, we have been warned of a future where the data trail we leave behind us in our lives is used to do things like price our insurance, or to place us at the scene of a crime, whether we’re guilty or not. Now both those things are happening.
As Sarah Jeong writes for the New York Times
, insurance companies are already deploying technologies like “a smartphone app that measures when you brake and accelerate in your car; the algorithm that analyzes your social media accounts for risky behavior, [and] the program that calculates your life expectancy using your Fitbit.”
Meanwhile, Google logs the locations of most of its users, and keeps a record going back years of everywhere they’ve been. This can be very useful if you want to look back at your own location history, and to help Google target advertising. But it’s also useful if police want to find everyone who was in a certain area at a certain time. Another New York Times piece explores that
These applications of technology are undoubtedly going to be misused. People will be denied insurance or quoted unreasonably high premiums because their activity data is misinterpreted. People will be arrested because data shows they happen to have been near a crime scene, even if they didn’t do anything wrong.
The law will catch up, but not before damage has been done to many lives.
On Friday, I appeared on the BBC News channel to talk about how Amazon employs humans to listen to recordings of users talking to Alexa. I pointed out that whether it’s by design or fault, we’ve all got to get used to the idea that anything we put online may eventually be used in ways we don’t anticipate or approve of.
That is true, but in a world where it’s increasingly difficult not to leave a data trail everywhere you go, and be tracked by countless vast corporations in ways you can’t predict or control, it’s not unreasonable to expect our lawmakers to get on top of this kind of activity quickly.
But then many smart people see the bloodbath that is modern day political discourse and decide it’s best for themselves and their families that they stay out of it. So the chances of the world’s parliaments filling with smart, tech-savvy people who can effectively counter mass tracking seem slim for the time being.
– Martin Bryant, sitting on his sofa at home, [exact coordinates redacted, but ask Google, Facebook, or Apple – they know where he is].