Will the Internet of Things Lead to Mass Surveillance
First we had personal computers, followed by cameras all over, and then the ubiquitous smartphone loaded with apps and social chit chat and now we are headed towards a new hype called “The Internet of Things”. Not long back I had thought of a concept that did not venture beyond my imaginative mind. Way back around 2008-2009, when I was working with a Software Startup that had filed a patent for a concept titled, “Alternative to Internet”; I felt I was working on a great revolutionary product in the making.
This new Internet was to be a peer-to-peer network with identified nodes (as opposed to the anonymous nodes in today’s p2p network described as the Darknet). The foundation for this network was IPv6 which had the capability to uniquely identify each single grain on the sands of the planet. In short each and every computer, device or electronic gadget could be uniquely identified.
Initially I was thrilled at the possibility that every computer could become a server and do away with the domain market that is synchronous with IPv4 addressing. The product to be developed was to be a browser which when installed on a computer will not only read or download data but also post back data without a server in between or a website to sign up. Around the same time, I was thinking of the grave dangers of terrorism that the world would be facing and how this can be tackled. Piggy back on IPv6’s unique identification, I thought of a concept where every legally identified person would be wearing a chip on their arm or visible part of their body that uniquely identify them.
At a public place, if a person without such a chip is detected, an alert is sent to the nearest law enforcement agency who can then take further action. This meant that those wearing such a device would get a green channel those who do not their access to cause destruction would be restricted. Though this seemed a noble concept initially, I knew there were many details that needed describing plus the fact that solution could well be misused.
Though people would be required to use the chip (on a watch or bracelet or on their skin like a tattoo) only when venturing out to a public place or outdoors, people might simply forget to wear it and get into trouble. And the idea seemed draconian to start with. So I dropped it. But as I look at the much hyped “Internet of Things”, I see this same concept taking shape in a voluntary form.
Considering our privacy is already invaded by way of tracking our social activities, be it on a social network or a location service on a smartphone, using a smart watch is akin to using a identifiable chip that can link you and your identity stored on server farms in Utah managed by three letter agencies or penetrated by four lettered ones.
For the moment, we have the option of not carrying our smartphones all over the place or simply use cases that hide their radiating presence. But it will not be long when hype turns to reality as in the form of herd mentality, we all fall prey to the temptations of wearing a smart watch or using a vehicle brimming with chips.
And those who do not will then seek extra attention. There could be detectors installed all over the place to scan for people wearing or using an IoT device. Be it embedded in a car or a smart watch. And none would be wiser how this will be used or managed. Who will be the managers of the data generated by these devices?
How secure the data will be as we have seen recently how hackers could take control of a vehicle remotely quite easily. Where is the guarantee that there would not be a hack that pours out every bit of information on what you do, where you live and where we have been?
There will be always those who will argue for an open book lifestyle instead of closed society just to push more and more technologies at our doorstep which basically means making more of the billions of dollars in different ways. But is the general population ready to let go of their privacy just because it is cool to use the latest IoT gadget?
A greater debate is needed on the use of IoT in general life (enterprise application is never in question) and how the data generated by such devices would be handled and by whom. Otherwise, we will be only creating a digital mess of infinite proportions considering the fact that it is impossible to count the number of grains in the sands of the beaches of this planet.
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