Who is observing whom?

In the future world of networked objects people will give up more and more of their privacy to win safety.
Sounds paradox, doesn’t it?

Safety or privacy?

Most household objects and other articles can be connected to the internet to help people with their everyday life. This offers more possible uses for the consumer. You already know some of these, such as a Smart TV or a Smart Light.

These are kind of a luxury product because they might be very expensive, if you choose good quality. (Quality, in this case, is defined as durable and the producer guarantees for safety of private data, in spite of the fact that this is actually true or not). Furthermore, these kinds of products are not essential to survive and that’s why they might seem superfluous for some people to use them. With this in mind every consumer has to decide if a product is really appropriate.

But there is another side of the coin: What if there comes a point, where the internet of things might improve our safety? Would we give up even more of our privacy to gain safety? Now we have to make a decision: What is more important, safety or privacy?

I don’t like the idea of choosing between two really important aspects, especially when choosing means that I have to pay the price of losing the other aspect. But what I hate even more is someone making that decision for me and I cannot do anything else other than accept the result.

In the following I am going to explain this in an example.

eCALL

Imagine a car, which will automatically send a signal to the police in case of an emergency.

It is not that hard to imagine that this could be possible, right? That’s because this scenario is already reality.

In 2015 it is planned by the European Union, that in the beginning of 2018 every single new car model in Europe has to have an emergency call system, in short: eCall.

In case of a car accident, or more specifically when the airbag is set off, the system will be activated and automatically call the European standard emergency number 112 and pass on, where the accident happened. Beyond that, a call to the headquarters will be put up in case one of the victims inside the car is able to speak. An emergency call can also be activated manually. This is completely independent from a mobile phone and works at home and abroad.

Some car manufacturers like BMW, Peugeot and Citroën already use similar systems. This application is meant to reduce the number of road casualties by over two thousand people a year Europe-wide.

In 2013 in Italy a project called ‘Harmonised eCall Europen Pilot’, short: HeERO, was tested. This was co-financed by the EU Commission and shows a success rate of 90%.

Criticism of eCall

Opponents are afraid that eCall might collect data about driving speed, somebody’s driving style and the behavior of braking, which might be used against the driver after an accident. Furthermore, the present fear is, that eCall might be abused and then leads to a Europe-wide surveillance.

Members of Parliament reply, that eCall will be a “sleeping system” which means that it will only send data during an accident. This data set includes the direction of travel, the used seatbelts to find out how many people are involved, the model of the car and the time of the accident.

But the opponents have more counterarguments and see further data protection problems. For example the eCall system makes a surveillance possible which might result in taxes or toll. Beyond that, insurance companies might use the data to promote new contracts and construct risk profiles for clients.

What is next?

I guess in some years we will accept the eCall system because we got used to it and appreciate the fast help for us and other people in an accident. But I wonder what will happen next in the world of the Internet of Things. Maybe a smoke alarm system in every single household that works like the eCall system and sends an emergency call, if it gives the alarm?

Maybe not only the smoke alarm, but even more objects in a household will be connected to the internet, to warn the user about defects or security risks. Then the piece of equipment might give the user advice on how to repair it or avoid the risk.

For me, this sounds like the new trend, because manufacturers always try to integrate as many options in a product that might help the consumer and make the use of a product as easy and safe as possible. An example for this is the intelligent fridge, which tells the consumer which groceries are inside the fridge but also what food might be missing or what is even healthier for the person.

However, I see a gap in security in this method., because the manufacturers could use this data set (defect equipment, further attachments and also frequency of use) to get an overview about what the daily life of a consumer looks like and create a profile for every single customer for personalized advertisements.

Who is controlling whom?

The obvious question now is the following: Who is controlling whom?

If the equipment tells us what to do or to buy next, the fridge turns into our personal nutritionist and we follow these instructions, who is now really making all future decisions, we ourselves or the equipment and their manufacturers?

Even if we decide to ignore the instructions or do the opposite (for example the fridge tells us to eat healthier and buy more fruit and vegetables, but instead we buy chocolate and further unhealthy snacks) we let the product influence us. Maybe we wanted to buy vegetables for dinner today but because the fridge told us, to buy it, we don’t. So in this scenario, are we really free in taking our own decisions? I don’t think so.

And, as I said before, ignoring the instructions might get difficult, if the fridge or other objects starts talking louder and becomes domineering or even brazen, when we don’t follow their instructions. In this case, would we give in and let us be influenced by these objects that we use every day?

Is privacy the price for our safety?

With so many objects in our house that are connected to the internet we are on the best way to a complete smart home, as it is called. And because all these pieces of equipment give information to their manufacturers, which are collected to create a profile of every person, we become transparent for companies and feel exposed to every kind of advertisement.

Can we avoid this scenario? Is it possible to get more of our privacy back? Do we have to pay things like special taxes, so that a company will delete our data?

Summary

Humans are naturally skeptical and critical beings against everything that is new. That’s the reason behind people always questioning new technology as long as they are not used to it. But when we get used to new technology, we will probably consume it, as long as the positive aspects about a product dominate.

The fact, that we don’t know what data and how much private information might be collected about us, will fade into the background.

Still the problem of being monitored will continue to exist. We only see the positive side of the Internet of Things and we will get used to forgetting about our transparency for companies.

That’s why we will accept the eCall system and sooner or later we will all live in smart homes and forget that it might be doing more harm to us than actually help us.