Discussions about privacy have resurfaced since U.S. federal legislators recently responded to the National Security Agency’s (NSA) bulk collection of private phone data. After much media coverage and public outcry, The U.S. House of Representatives and Senate recently passed a bill ending the NSA’s current practice of bulk collection. While it’s refreshing to see politicians working together to protect privacy, the end of privacy, as we know it, might come from another source: the Internet of Things (IoT).
It’s easy to ignore the deeper implications of how the IoT will affect our privacy. After all, it’s exciting to think about how our favorite products and services will be tailored specifically to us. But the IoT won’t just revolutionize consumer goods. It will redefine every aspect of our individual and collective lives: government, healthcare, manufacturing—you name it.
But how can the IoT have a greater impact than, say, the steam engine or flight? Isn’t the IoT just going to make things, such as ordering pizza, easier and more convenient?
Three factors set the IoT apart from other technological achievements:
Because we will readily accept these pervasive, combined technologies, the IoT will greatly impact our current definition of privacy. Countless sensors and smart objects in our houses, cars, clothes and even our bodies will constantly collect information about us. This collection of personal information raises important questions: Exactly who will have access to this information? How will they use it? Will it be shared with others?
Our current understanding of privacy will recede as organizations constantly gather more and more information about us from our IoT-enabled devices. Because our devices and possessions will always be connected, we will always be connected, too. The very concept of being offline or even alone may become extinct.
Big data, especially, will make it hard to keep anything private. Our “things” will gather contextual details about us, giving organizations the capability to analyze and predict our behavior. This will no doubt open very public windows into all of our lives.
It’s difficult to tell how much, or how little, privacy we will have once the IoT is fully formed. The IoT’s impact on privacy may lead to a dystopian nightmare filled with constant surveillance, or it might even make some positive changes in the world as human beings become more transparent with each other. One thing is sure: the IoT will completely change the way we think of privacy.