It’s a frightening thought, but the all-seeing, all-knowing eye of Big Brother could become part of your life sooner than you might think. More and more electronic devices are coming equipped with the ability to transmit personal information, and the storage of that information in massive databases is increasingly becoming ubiquitous.
According to a blog published the ACLU’s website, policy advisors within the FTC are concerned that, “these databases will include new waves of data — maybe from your conscious home or location information from commercial sensors — and so become ever more consolidated.” Your once-private life could soon be broadcast to the online masses, whether you like it or not. With personal privacy in mind, here are just a few ways Big Data and the Internet of Things could join forces to gain access into your personal life.
The Internet of Things in a Privacy Nutshell
If you think back to all of those science fiction movies you watched as a kid, things like microchip tracking implants and retina-scanning devices probably come to mind. The Internet of Things has been embedded in the public’s consciousness, in fact, ever since the first computer became part of our technological zeitgeist in the 1940s.
In more realistic terms, today’s Internet of Things generally refers to the accessibility of various electronic devices via the Internet, thus forming an information-sharing network. Although this comes as no surprise to people who make Internet-equipped and WiFi-enabled devices a part of their everyday lives, the transmitting of personal data is filtering into every part of the private affairs of consumers.
Nowhere is this more apparent than in home automation technologies — just look at Google’s acquisition of Nest back in January for an example of this data’s value. Although Nest claims the data will only be used to improve its own products and services, tech commentators remain skeptical and say the Internet giant plans to data-mine everything users do on these devices, albeit perhaps anonymously.
When you sign up for any online account or delve into the realm of social media, then you’re inevitably sharing a small portion of your private life with the Internet. But, the Internet of Things could potentially share your private information without you knowing, from devices you didn’t even know were on a network. And, with Big Data at its side, there’s no end to the interruption of privacy.
Big Data at a Glance
The Cloud represents the Internet’s networking capabilities, and Big Data comprises the untold amounts of transmitted data. In terms of data management, every bit of text, every video, and every last photograph on the Internet needs a place to go. These terabytes and terabytes of data constitute high-value collection sets that are generally referred to as “Big Data.”
These collection sets are stored in massive databases that Paul Ohm from the Harvard Business Review calls, “databases of ruin.” The data sets are stored there for extended, often endless periods of time and they’re accessible by more users than you might think. In most cases, your online privacy is safe, but as the Internet of Things collects more and more of your personal information, the data collection sets will grow along with the accessibility of that data.
The Powers Combined and What it Means for Your Privacy
In many ways, the Internet of Things and Big Data are already joining forces. In fact, your smartphone, tablet, and computer transmit your personal information every day from one secure location to the next, but this is usually at your request.
For example, when you sign up for an account at an online retailer, your address, email, and form of payment are usually stored in a database, in case you want to make another purchase at a later date. This is an example of the Internet of Things and Big Data working together to make your life easier.
But, there are also millions of cases of unwanted information sharing that could affect your online privacy and security in numerous ways. One such example, cited in a Forbes article published last year, involves the use of an analytics program by Target that predicted the pregnancy of a teenage girl before her family even knew. And while the use of Big Data by companies is currently very limited, the implications of combining Big Data and the Internet of Things in the years to come is truly staggering.
The Big Data and Internet of Things Partnership is Already at Work
With all this talk about invasions of privacy, you’re probably looking for some concrete examples of just how the Internet of Things and Big Data are sharing your online presence with the digital world. Well, here are just a few examples of how the partnership is already in full force:
- IP Addresses – Your computer’s IP address is the Internet’s way of tracking your every move. Every site you visit, every email you send, and every comment you post is associated with your IP address. Unless you’re using a VPN service like Hotspot Shield, some of the data your IP address provides will be collected, catalogued, analyzed, and stored without your knowledge.
- Cookies – The kind you eat are harmless, but the kind on your computer can allow third-party users track your online habits. For example, if you’re searching for a certain pair of boots online and suddenly every ad on every website you visit is for the exact pair of boots you’re looking for, this is due to data-sharing in the form of web browser cookies.
- Social Media – Even if you set your profile to private, third-party vendors are using your social media accounts to figure out exactly what kind of consumer you are. The next time you visit Facebook, pay attention to the banner ads and sponsored posts. If they relate to your interests, then that’s just another way Big Data and the Internet of Things are taking advantage of your privacy.
- Smart Devices – Your smartphone might know more about you than your own mother, but some smart devices are relaying your personal information to third parties. Your smart thermostat, your smart fridge, even your home’s smart meter collects information about your daily energy consumption habits for use by third-party vendors.
The Other Side of the Digital Coin
Big Data and the Internet of Things joining forces isn’t all bad news. In fact, the transmission and storage of your personal information often optimizes your online livelihood. When combined with effective analytics and data management, Big Data and the Internet of Things can help improve many things in your daily life.
For example, Big Data, with some assistance from the Internet of Things, helps companies better understand your spending habits, it optimizes the storage of your medical records. Commentators also speculate that it coul help the NSA keep the United States safe from potential terrorist plots, and assist credit card companies and banking institutions in keeping your financial information out of the hands of cyber criminals and identity thieves.
But, as we’ve already mentioned, the potential downside is just as signficant. According to the aforementioned ACLU blog, “Chances are Big Data and the Internet of Things will make it harder for us to control our own lives, as we grow increasingly transparent to powerful corporations and government institutions that are becoming more opaque to us.” However, only time will tell exactly how much Big Data and the Internet of Things really will affect your privacy.