The “Internet of Things” will take further hold and become more fully embedded as a reality in our society. However, a tipping point is likely to be reached in 2015 as public awareness of the potential for these technologies to violate personal privacy increases. This will lead to an associated public outcry for stricter controls and government legislation regarding how people, organizations and government collect and use this information. The public will no longer be satisfied to leave technology companies and users to self-police their uses of their personal data.
Surveillance and other technologies that permit the collection of data about people will continue to proliferate. Analytical tools are emerging to interpret this information, and to merge and use it in an increasingly integrated fashion to permit continuous monitoring of locational and other information about specific people and groups. Drones that are freely available in the open marketplace can be programmed to follow people and objects using GSM and other technologies as tracking beacons. Miniature homing devices that will facilitate tracking of locational information of objects and people are also freely available. Phone companies routinely collect data from everyone making cell calls on their networks. Because many phones have chips that stay on even after a battery has been removed, tracking powered-down phones is within the realm of possibility.
Massive amounts of geospatial information are now being collected from a myriad of Internet-enabled devices and stored in “big data” repositories. At the same time, the techniques for mining this information are constantly being refined and improved. Researchers have found ways to capture this data for use in determining people’s locations and estimating their movements. While this can be useful in the case of natural disasters, we’ve now seen how companies like Uber can also use the information that they gather from their client’s phones in a way that negatively impacts their privacy.
We have only seen the beginning of many revelations that will continue to emerge as more geospatial information about individuals becomes readily available without associated controls and legislation to guard against misuse. Government agencies and private companies have the ability to regularly track people without warrants or court orders. In a world where it is increasingly obvious that information can be used for either good or evil, and is being used in both ways, it is highly unlikely that the status quo will prevail for much longer without associated controls.
[Editor’s Note: This post is part of the annual “Cutter Predicts …” series.]