Read almost anything written on the subject of ubiquitous computing and sooner or later you will run into the authors concerns regarding how easily the enabling technologies can be perverted to provide ubiquitous surveillance, and as a result, what measures or safeguards need to be in place to ensure that our (expectation of a reasonable level of) privacy can be protected.
The basic premise is that (and this is my interpretation) in a society where our “stuff” is “connected”, it will be possible for “someone” to know where we are, what we are doing, who we are doing it with, and what colour underwear we are wearing (ok, I made the last one up, but it’s possible – think RFID tagging).*
It is envisaged that the information generated by our interactions with intelligent environments could well be in the “public domain” in perpetuity, accessible to government (or quasi-government bodies), corporations, advertising executives, and possibly the guy standing next to us on the street.
Generally, and quite understandably, this seems to be regarded as a “bad thing”, an erosion of our civil liberties, an invasion of privacy, creepy and so on.
Whilst not disagreeing with these concerns, they are I believe symptomatic of “top down” thinking - and that the actuality may well be very different. I would like to put forward three slightly different perspectives - they are not mutually exclusive and I expect that people’s attitudes will stem from a combination of these and other views.
Perspective One - There is an inevitability to this, why worry, we trust that “someone” knows what they are doing. This is the fatalistic approach.
Perspective Two - Whilst we may not like all the implications, the problems associated with having “opted-out” are far outweighed by the benefits of “opting-in.” This is the pragmatic approach.
Perspective Three - The likely user base (those currently between 12 and17 years old) are so used to being “connected” that they simply will not care. This is the indifferent approach.
I appreciate that this is a brief, and knowingly superficial, take on what is without doubt a significant issue, and the post in no way seeks to trivialise what are very legitimate concerns. It is intended only to introduce the topic and my thoughts, and act as a bookmark for me to return to.
*Unless someone else claims it, I now own the idea of RFID tagged undies as part of the Inteligent Underware Initiative (or IUI, please notice the clever spelling of underware. I am going to call the product “SmartPants”, the advertising slogan will be “be a smarty pants in SmartPants”. As I sit writing this at work several people have suggested additional benefits to owning SmartPants beyond my “no more pink pants” mixed-colour washing scenario – these include never misplacing your underwear and avoiding fashion blunders such as dark underwear with light clothes.