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Tech Toys and the Price of Lost Privacy

With so much technology at our disposal today and talk of great technologies in the future, how do we proceed responsibly?

Last week my family and I escaped the frigid Buffalo tundra and subzero temperatures for sunny Florida. Upon landing, I pulled out my iPhone and began using Google Maps to look up directions to where we were staying. A few days later my aunt and uncle came to visit, so I added a Johnny Cash station to my Pandora playlist for my uncle on my portable Bluetooth speaker. He thoroughly enjoyed the tunes from his past. When we landed in Buffalo after our weeklong sabbatical, we turned the heat back up at home by logging onto our Crestron Pyng system at the airport. If you follow me, you know I am all about technologies that can improve your quality of life, and all of the inventions above did just that. Yet, what is the cost of these conveniences? What am I sacrificing by using these tools?

With so much technology at our disposal today and talk of great technologies in the future, how do we proceed responsibly?

Business Insider
Intelligence published a report claiming that there will be 23.3 billion active “Internet of Things” devices connected to the internet by 2019, making it the largest device market in the world. These devices will use the information you have given them, either knowingly or not, to propel these systems forward. This information gathering is already in the works and has been for quite some time. Think about it…

Amazon: How many things have your purchased from Amazon? They record your purchasing history, so they know what you’re interested in. Beyond that, a simple device like the Kindle can make recommendations based on that information, and today the company is taking orders for its newest invention, Echo.

Echo is always listening. It is like Siri unleashed, a portable speaker that listens for commands. By calling it by its name, Alexa, the Echo device answers questions about weather, can play music on demand, and even tell you a joke. Though this device is only in the beginning stages, people will undoubtedly have strong feelings about its potential for eavesdropping. Once the convenience factor is there, will we be willing to make the sacrifice for our privacy? I love to cook, but hate going back to my laptop (my device of choice) to look for the next ingredient. What if could ask, “Alexa, what do I add to the soup after the carrots?” Would the added expediency to my kitchen be enough to tame the nagging red flag in my mind?

Facebook: It pains me to watch friends fill out surveys on “what TV mom would you be?” since I know the information is being collected. I cringe every time someone posts a selfie doing something stupid, as I know that what I post is public no matter how many privacy features I click. People seem to understand this, yet they still complain when their privacy is compromised. All the while Facebook continues to grow, with a user base that has skyrocketed to more than 1.35 billion users since its launch in 2004.

We claim to be concerned, but continue to crave this new way of life—and we want it all for free. Facebook uses your likes, hobbies, hometown, and movement around the web to target you with ads, but don’t worry; they emphasize that advertisers can’t personally identify who you are. You’re just a small piece in an information-gathering puzzle.

Google: Beyond knowing everything you have searched for—ever—Google reads your email (if you have a Gmail account). Don’t believe me? Write yourself an email about dogs or bathing suits and watch the ads on the page change, advertising for those things. They also openly admit to collecting your device information, your login data, and even your location information. You may call it infringement, but this is the price you pay for the all-access pass to the “book of knowledge” (insider tip: if this truly concerns you, try DuckDuckGo, a search engine that does not collect or store any of your information).

Apple: You have this one password to your cloud that is oh-so-convenient—until someone else has it. They could wipe your phone, change appointments, and even gain access to files and photos that are stored there (just ask those Hollywood actresses). Sounds scary, but on the other hand, my one password lets me purchase movies, music, and TV shows, all with the tap of a button. Then all of this content is magically available on all my Apple devices. So if I purchased a movie six months ago on my AppleTV, it is available on the iPad to hand to my kids on the plane.

Is it worth it?

“If you’re not paying for the product, you are the product,” says Adi Kamdar, an activist with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, an organization that has monitored privacy issues from the web’s earliest days. This is a powerful warning that people need to recognize and understand as we enter into the next chapter of the digital age.

Paul Saffo, a Silicon Valley forecaster, puts it this way: “We’re going to care some day, but not until the consequences shift from your preferences and likes being mined to negative repercussions to your job, your credit history, your healthcare, your life. That crisis may come. But until then, it shouldn’t be news to anyone that if you’re online, you’re being manipulated.”

Why should we the care? Because with the Internet of Things coming online, we are asking people to give away a piece of their soul for admittance. The price of privacy for convenience is saving money, instant gratification, and seamless experiences.

Sounds a lot like the sales pitches that we, as custom integrators, make to our clients, doesn’t it?

Heather L. Sidorowicz is the president of Southtown Audio Video in Hamburg, NY.