Louis Libin, the CEO of Broad-Comm, Inc. and an international expert in cyber security contributed to this blog.
Life can become like a dark fairy tale. We live in an age when a teenager in Ashdod can trigger a worldwide manhunt for a dangerous “anti-Semite” using a computer in his apartment. Access to the world is available from any digital device anywhere, and it’s not just teenagers with “mental” issues that are creating havoc.
In the U.S. Internet service providers are now allowed to sell data they collect on our Internet use. This is but one of many concerns. We have also learned that the CIA has access to all of our personal digital information and, so does WikiLeaks. There is no place, it seems, to keep our identities and families safe from prying hackers or those interested in using data to interface with our lives.
Last year the Commissioner of the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs, Julie Menin issued a warning about baby monitors. Following reports that hackers were targeting monitors to spy on sleeping babies the Commissioner said “Video monitors are intended to give parents peace of mind … but the reality is quite terrifying — if they aren’t secure, they can provide easy access for predators to watch and even speak to our children.” The warning prompted a flurry of suggestions to secure baby monitors that are Internet linked.
The concern for keeping hackers out of our homes is not new. We have known for years that the cameras on computers can be hijacked to spy on whatever may be happening on the other side. Last year a group of hackers took control of 145,000 web cameras and darkened major portions of the Internet. Malicious software can be inserted into any Internet connected device. In response to this increased awareness the FBI director, James Comey, stated just a few months ago “I put a piece of tape over the camera (on my computer) because I saw somebody smarter than I am had a piece of tape over their camera.”
It is not just baby monitors or computers. Do you own a Vizio television? The likelihood is that it too has been collecting data on you. The Federal Trade Commission settled a claim against Vizio for selling this otherwise private information on home data use. But, Vizio is not the only manufacturer of Internet connected TV’s. Samsung and LG televisions with Internet accessibility are capable of doing the same.
Kellyanne Conway was wrong. Microwave ovens do not have cameras. But, she wasn’t completely wrong. Microwave ovens can be easily configured to collect data on at least some of our eating habits. Even light bulbs that can be turned off or on via smartphone are susceptible to hacking.
We live in a post-Orwellian time. We regularly invite big brother, or at least, big data, into our most private rooms at our most private moments to gather information. And, very few of us seem to be alarmed. We have already experienced a decaying of personal privacies and have limited concern or interest in the price we have started to pay. How else could we possibly explain the desire to bring devices into our homes that are constantly on and capable of aggregating even more of our most personal information?
Echo and Alexa are bringing Voice Recognition to our homes, offices even our bodies, if not now, then as soon as we start to wear more “wearable” technologies. Both the Echo and Alexa are about Internet Penetration, and the more the more the Internet penetrates our homes, cars or bodies, the greater the danger. It is not just the danger of gathering personal information but the prospect of taking that information and altering the landscape of our future experiences. The safe zone between the outside world and the self has been overwhelmingly penetrated and maybe permanently violated.
Alexa or Echo are devices that exist exclusively to supply data to their corporate masters. Yes, the data is useful. Yes, you will get new services for free because of their technological advances. Your refrigerator will notify the supermarket that you need another container of milk. Your wake up alarm starts your morning coffee and toasted bagel.
Once connected all this data is totally aggregated. Everything you do in your life becomes data, all vacuumed up into a huge data engine. Giant Data knows what we eat, what we buy, and if you position your Echo near enough to your bathroom, what you actually do in there. That should be frightening or, at the very least, disconcerting.
There is an even more disturbing aspect.
Alexa will soon know our moods – when we are angry or sad, happy or frustrated. Amazon is testing new natural-language processing techniques for Alexa that will allow it to recognize emotional tone and apologize for misunderstandings. It will make decisions based on digitally interpreted moods.
Still, we are buying into these privacy and controlling options more and more. If we try to stop we feel the discomfort of withdrawal. When we get a new device or new app we get the surge of elation. This is the definition of a true addiction. Orwellian indeed!
With every new device we become attached to we change our lives and give up something fundamental to our humanity. In this new world if you discuss gloves at home, Amazon and Google will upsell you gloves, or just ship them to you if you turn on “let Echo order what you need” button. We will never again have to think about specifics. Big data has an algorithm to do that for us and hackers know how to get the information.
Questions about how much privacy and knowledge should be available to others are increasingly significant and require more understanding, assessment and control. Unfortunately, we are being guided by an addictive impulse in a direction that is potentially dangerous.
Yoda, the little green master, in his infinite wisdom warned us– “When you look at the Dark Side, careful you must be…For the Dark Side looks back.” We should listen to his advice