Privacy-Changing Technologies

Year-end was a time for reflection and prediction in the technology arena. In the Personal Journal section of the December 31, 2014 issue of The Wall Street Journal, Geoffrey A. Fowler and Joanna Stern anticipated which will be the game-changing personal technologies of the upcoming year in their article “The Tech to Rock Your 2015.” Evolutionary and revolutionary technologies abound and include more biometrics, fitness trackers, pay by phone, streaming video, “Uber-ization,” and smart watches.

There are a couple of nods to security and privacy scattered around the article. When discussing “virtual assistants,” such as Google Now and Microsoft’s Cortana, which will incorporate “predictive intelligence,” Fowler and Stern warn that “… because they get more intelligent (and useful) by finding out more about you, you’ll want to pick a system that you trust.” You may well ask when Google and Microsoft have garnered much in the way of trust. Good question. In any event, you’ll probably be forced to pick one or other of these virtual assistants with predictive intelligence built right in … or perhaps Facebook will throw its hat into the ring, and you will have an opportunity to trust them with your most personal secrets. There again, with predictive intelligence coming to the fore, predictions about 2016 technologies might be done by computers rather than reporters. You can be sure that, if that becomes the case, you won’t see any references to trustworthiness and privacy.

In the section of the article on social networking, where the prediction is “about enhancing your more personal, private communications,” the article points to anonymous communication. Here, the reporters suggest that “… when using anonymous apps, be safe and remember: None of the apps can guarantee anonymity.” OK … so, in that case, what good are these apps? As happened with Snapchat, assumed privacy through erasing photographs after a few seconds didn’t work because there are workarounds to capture the pictures … even if it’s just using a method as crude as photographing the screen of your smartphone (with another smartphone perhaps).

In the section of the article on using your phone instead of a credit card, the article rightly suggests that “[s]ince your phone contains more sensitive information than ever, be sure to secure it with a screen lock and remote wipe capabilities.” Of course that leads to the usual tradeoff … the more secure you believe the system to be, as with biometrics, the more likely you are to enter more confidential information and the more interest potential hackers will be in trying to get at that information.

As we move forward with the Internet of Things (IoT), privacy and trustworthiness will become increasingly important, but will likely receive diminished attention since addressing such issues will only delay progress and cost money into the bargain. But that’s another discussion …

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