The modern equivalent of rummaging through your bins

The Internet of Things (IoT) and smart homes are bringing a raft of connected electrical devices to homes all across the world. Technologies use microphones, movement sensors, cameras, you name it, it’s all recorded somewhere and people’s private lives have the potential to be measured for commercial gain. But are people really bothered? Think of Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook, Instagram or Snapchat – nearly every big technology company has been tracking individuals’ details and activity to monetise the data.

Have you ever seen adverts on your smartphone on things you were looking at on your computer? It’s all connected by collecting browser cookies and storing in Facebook or Google, then feeding back to your phone via the Facebook app, Messenger App or in your Gmail or Chrome browser, if you’re also logged in on your phone.

There’s something really important to consider here: our information. How many people are bothered if someone knows our name, location, sex and age? Or what about our postal address, bank details and 16-digit card number?

It seems society’s level of acceptance for information being recorded by third parties has been much more relaxed. There was a time when people would shred every piece of paper that was put in the rubbish but people haven’t adopted the same level of precaution when it comes to technology.

A good and simple question is, why?

When you look at how certain technology platforms work, for example social media, personal data can be used in order to profile your interests and to allow you to tell people about yourself. The likes of cookies on your browser – if you’ve been looking at a buying a microwave, and that same microwave pops up in the sale, the thought behind that is that you’ll purchase it. It’s surely in the interest of yourself, and in the interest of the retailer to make you a customer.

My key point is that I find, and hopefully others do too, your personal data is not used invasively on these particular examples, but instead used efficiently. However, this does take a bit of a nose dive when your phone number is exposed, and you get the never ending automated calls for ‘PPI’ or ‘an accident you had 21 months ago’. Maybe you’ve had vishing phone calls, or you’ve been targeted in the latest ‘can you hear me?’ phone scam.

Looking at the Internet of Things, we have the likes of the new Amazon Echo. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this device, check it out. From voice activated music requests to weather, news or even turning off your lights, Echo can do it all with a simple vocal request. As you’re able to ask Alexa anything, are you aware that Alexa is listening to the things you say? And that Amazon and Google used your recordings for research?

In his review of the Amazon Echo, Tim Moynihan of Wired said: “That little talking cylinder is always listening to you. And not just listening, but recording and saving many of the things you say. Should you freak out? Not if you’re comfortable with Google and Amazon logging your normal web activity, which they’ve done for years. Hell, many other sites have also done it for years. Echo and Home simply continue the trend of saving a crumb trail of queries, except with snippets of your voice.”

On the flipside, would this make you feel safer? If your home was broken into, for example, you might have the recordings available to assist the police in catching a criminal.

Other devices will soon adapt the same technology. For example, smart televisions will soon use cookies to present different adverts to different viewers. So, during the break on Coronation Street, you and your neighbour will be watching entirely different adverts.

I think that technology companies should be a bit more open with customers on the activities they’re carrying out. I do suppose some people would not buy products knowing that they’re being almost monitored, not to the extent of the Jim Carrey film The Truman Show but let’s face it, we like our privacy.

Will you be making your home a smart home anytime soon?