Monday, February 09, 2015

TV spying on us. Phones tracking us. Robots attacking us. Help!

Back in my grandmothers' villages, there was no privacy--everybody was in everybody else's business.  Thus, one can easily understand why there was that old saying, "பேர சொன்னாலும் ஊற சொல்லாதே" (when introducing yourself to a stranger while in a different town, do not say where you are from.)  One could, thus, become anonymous in the big city, and visit the village once in a while and even spin stories of life in the city.

It appears that all we have done, in the name of progress, is to trade that kind of village-level invasion of privacy with a global one.  A horrendous loss of privacy in which there is no possibility of being anonymous anymore, whether in a big city or in a village!

Even before the GPS-enabled smartphones, the cellphone data gave away our location information.  The smartphones made that all the more easier.

When we read books--the old paper kind--nobody knew if we read only the first seventeen pages of Ulysses or lasted until the very end.  Now, ebooks routinely keep track of that information and relay that to their bosses, along with data like whether we highlighted or bookmarked anywhere in the book, and more.  Heck, they can even make the ebook you purchased disappear!

If we didn't want to talk to anybody and did not want to read any book, we might have turned the telly on and cursed at the dull and boring shows while rapidly changing channels.  Smart TV with voice recognition will bring you the internet right to the TV and you can even bark your commands, they say.  Apparently, they didn't tell us this part:
Samsung privacy policy warns: “Please be aware that if your spoken words include personal or other sensitive information, that information will be among the data captured and transmitted to a third party through your use of voice recognition.”
Ray Bradbury warned of a future when the walls at homes would be nothing but television screens to entertain us and we slowly start enslaving ourselves.  George Orwell warned us that those screens will not be passive devices:
Parker Higgins, an activist for San Francisco-based advocacy group Electronic Frontier Foundation who brought the privacy policy to light, compared the feature to the telescreens in George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984.
Orwell wrote: “Any sound that Winston made, above the level of a very low whisper, would be picked up by it, moreover, so long as he remained within the field of vision which the metal plaque commanded, he could be seen as well as heard. There was of course no way of knowing whether you were being watched at any given moment. How often, or on what system, the Thought Police plugged in on any individual wire was guesswork.”
PC Magazine reminds us that it is not merely with Samsung TV.  There are all kinds of devices always lying in wait for our voices.  The GPS navigation systems in cars to which you can talk your commands. Or your smartphones to which you can talk your commands.  Or the ... We have been trading away our privacy.  Gizmodo sums it up well:
Depressingly enough, all of this is just more evidence that "yes, if your smart gadget is connected to the internet, then it's probably collecting data on you." 
Meanwhile, how about this news story about a robot attacking its owner?  Ok, it wasn't like HAL.  And to some extent, well, funny.  But, hello!
When a South Korean woman invested in a robot vacuum cleaner, the idea was to leave her trustworthy gadget to do its work while she took a break from household chores.
Instead, the 52-year-old resident of Changwon city ended up being the victim of what many believe is a peek into a dystopian future in which supposedly benign robots turn against their human masters.
The woman, whose name is being withheld, was taking a nap on the floor at home when the vacuum cleaner locked on to her hair and sucked it up, apparently mistaking it for dust.
You, too, should be worried at all these developments.

Remember, these are all private corporations.  And then there is the government.  Be afraid. Be very afraid ... so, party like it is 1984 ;)


Ramesh said...

It IS 1984 and we seem to be welcoming it. Our collective generation seems to have no more use for privacy. I go to extraordinary lengths to try to stop companies and governments from nosing into my business, but I know I have no chance of success. Its a terrifying thought as to how much we have voluntarily given away.

Sriram Khé said...

It is terrifying. It is also worrisome that most people do not seem to care even a tad about it. Heck, 1984 is not even in the reading list of almost all high schools and colleges :(

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