The Whole iTruth, and Nothing but the iTruth

A little over a year ago Steve Cox wrote ‘Who Sees What You Say?’ a blog based around Apple’s voice recognition software Siri. In it Steve questioned just who was listening when we spoke to our phones, and how that information could be used for marketing purposes…or indeed anything else…

The blog joked about some of the lighter-hearted and daft questions Siri had been programmed to answer, including “Which is the greatest Smart Phone?” (It was a Nokia before Apple, ahem, changed that response) and even, “How do I bury a body?”

So, imagine my surprise when I read a recent story in the news about a murder trial in the US which used the accused’s iPhone as evidence against him…including the question he asked of it… “Siri… I need to hide my roommate”!

Not only did the guy ask his phone how to dispose of his dead roommate, but authorities are also using the fact he activated the flashlight app on his torch several times during that fateful period, as well as the location data gathered from his phone which contradicted his proposed alibi, as further evidence against him.

If the Police can use your phone as a way to determine whether you are guilty or not – is this a bad thing? Imagine the scene: “And now for my next witness, I call forward the iPhone 5S”

It could have all sorts of implications in saving time and resource (and of course ‘fibbing’), but it would need to be absolutely water tight, obviously. Internet connected devices are susceptible to hacking so how reliable a witness a phone would be I don’t know. I don’t have a law degree so I’m not entirely sure what would hold up in a court of law, but could this be a sign of the way things could operate in the future?

Technology is used on a daily basis whilst investigating crimes; this is nothing new. If you think about it, how often do you hear on the news about a guilty party’s internet search history including “How to remove fingerprints easily” or “How to dispose of your boss in a shredder without anyone noticing”?

What we do on our computers; what we read; what sites we visit; what we research; what we watch and where and when we do it can be analysed to within an inch of its life. It can determine what sort of a person we are, if we’re up to anything devious, or for businesses to predict what you will do next to make sure they’re the first people you see….

This, most people know already…. You can’t do anything online or on your phone these days without someone else knowing about it! It’s why we get emails from the likes of Amazon asking you if you’re thinking about buying a new HD 32” Samsung, when you’d been looking at such a model online only hours earlier.

Would you find it hard to sympathise with anyone who commits a crime, and then uses their phone to research their dastardly deed…which then turns to key evidence that gets the book thrown at them? Well, I find it hard to sympathise with anyone who commits a crime in the first place; this just takes the biscuit.

On the flip side, this sort of “Big Brother is watching you” approach can prove useful in deterring malicious behaviour and finding criminals. This talk by James Lyne from our security partners SOPHOS shows how some hackers are having their tools of destruction turned on their heads and used to oust them, and their locations, instead!

But If we take a step back from using this analysis to catch and incarcerate criminals for just a moment and think how this can affect our normal, innocent, day to day activities – is there a danger that we can over-react or look into things just a bit too much? Is privacy dead altogether and we’ve just learned to live with it?

Possibly, but my feeling is that this is an issue we’re going to see a lot of in the immediate future, particularly with the advent of wearable technology and more and more connected devices (such as the smart fridge which you can text to see how many beers you’ve got in).

A lot of the talk about Google Glass has been about how aesthetically pleasing, or not, they are. But what’s getting less talked about is the potential privacy consequences. Say for example you’re wearing Google Glasses, you step onto a bus or a train and click ‘record video’. Your fellow passengers are all now part of a reality show, whether they want to be or not.

Security and privacy issues tend to be a reactive industry – we see legislation come in only when something major happens to cause it. With technology playing a larger role in our lives as consumers, and the implications of being constantly connected to the internet are adding up, perhaps it’s time to revisit this.