I learned a new phrase this week, and it has left me feeling more and more like I’m in Big Brother territory. “The Internet of Things”, or IoT, as it’s otherwise known, is all about, and I quote: “the extension of Internet connectivity into physical devices and everyday objects. Embedded with electronics, Internet connectivity, and other forms of hardware, these devices can communicate and interact with others over the Internet, and they can be remotely monitored and controlled”.
As we progress into the Brave New World (another literary reference), we are connecting our phones with our computers, with our laptops, stoves, house lights, thermostats, and anything else we can find. Now, oh happy day, we can be at the movies and turn up the heat at home so it will be toasty warm when we get back, having turned on the lights from the car and warmed up the stove for our take-out food, which we’ve ordered by texting the restaurant. Isn’t life wonderful?
The thing is: we’re beginning to realise that this might not be as wonderful as it first seemed. A recent survey conducted in the United States, Canada, Japan, Australia, France, and the United Kingdom by IPSOS Mori on behalf of the Internet Society and Consumers International, found that: “65% of consumers are concerned with the way connected devices collect data. More than half (55%) do not trust their connected devices to protect their privacy and a similar proportion (53%) do not trust connected devices to handle their information responsibly”.
Canadians used that very apt and technical term to describe how they feel about this kind of “progress”: 69% of Canadians surveyed said that connected devices are “creepy”. The Internet Society and Consumers International survey reveals that most Canadians believe manufacturers (88%) and retailers (85%) should ensure good privacy and security standards.
A wide-ranging group of government ministries and organisations have been working together to create the “The IoT Security Implementation Working Group”, whereby the security of systems can be better protected.
This, to me, is just another indication of how the entire internet experience is getting beyond our control. Why is it that people always seem to mess up (to use another technical term) every really positive invention or technical development? When the internet first became widely available to people, it promised so much: freedom to learn, to communicate, to share ideas, to bring people together independent of government interference or national boundaries. And, for many years, it seemed to be fulfilling its promise. More and more information and even entertainment, was there at our fingertips. We could read newspapers from around the world on-line, watch television programs that were otherwise outside our reach, and “talk” to people all over the world in real time and in real freedom.
However, people have become worried about the increasing reliance on technology, the addiction so many have to their smart phones, and the way in which sites like Facebook and Google have been infiltrated by those with a political agenda posing as regular users. In the survey cited above, it was found that 77% think people using connected devices should be concerned about their data being used without their permission, and 75% of consumers using connected devices should worry about the risk of “eavesdropping” (devices are being accessed without knowledge or permission).
Today, we have the situation where governments around the world, including Canada, are considering applying stricter regulations to internet sites and users in order to prevent abuse of peoples’ privacy and misuse by political entities. Individuals are turning off Facebook and other social media sites, completely disgusted with the personal abuse being thrown around by comments Below the Line [BTL], racist, misogynist, hate-filled abuse, not by political parties or extremist groups, but by ordinary men and women, people who, face to face, would never dare or dream about making the kind of remarks they freely post about people they don’t even know.
Technology may help bring people together, but it’s also enabling people to bring division and conflict. As we become more and more prisoners of our phones, web sites and technology, where are we heading? Can we find the fine line between freedom of speech and licence? Between open communication and hate-filled commentaries? Between liberation and a new kind of divisiveness? Where will we be in 2525?