Ramblings on having privacy in public spaces

Friday, September 14, 2007

The beginings

Once we have understood how RFID technology along with a host of other technologies can be used to make our world ubiquitously smarter, our whole perspective of the way we communicate changes. Your toothpaste would inform the supermarket that its getting over and apply for a new toothpaste. You could have a book that knows the last line you read, and immediately open to the page where you left. Your car would self start as soon as it sees you approaching. The future is not a science fiction dream, all these and much more is possible with technologies like RFID. The question is at what cost are we arriving at this kind of future. Yes, you will be leaving an information trail wherever you go. And you maybe tracked, followed, and observed for a reason or for no reason. This is a technology that in the background, within inventories, can create many cost saving benefits and increase efficiency. Or in special contexts, for instance, as payment at expensive beach clubs, or in the case of a threat to a particular individual, where tracking may have valid reasons.

The issue is about what happens when this technology comes to the foreground. Advertisers can use tags to screen personal and convincing advertorials at the naive consumer. Governments may want to issue cards to all its citizens, in the name of it being a welfare state concerned about giving its citizens privileges, a better quality of life, and better security.

What happens now, definitely is worth imagining. With increasing access to your information, with no past, present or future as life transits into a data collection process, the average person will begin to become a puppet in the hands of the information system. Many activists have been raising issues about protecting privacy, and why it is important for maintaining human freedom of speech and liberty. In reply to angry activism about privacy, Scott McNealy of Sun microsystems said “You have no privacy anyway, get over it”. Could we survive in a transparent world. Would people accept living a transparent life? Will governments and markets comply with this sort of transparency, or will they use it as a gimmick? Take the example of Hasan Elahi, (http://www.wired.com/techbiz/people/magazine/15-06/ps_transparency ) a professor who in retaliation to being detained and searched at an airport, has begun documenting his life, by listing his geographic position, and images on his web-site. What if everyone agreed to live life publicly?

The RFID revolution is bound to change our way of life. What we need to discuss is how we can continue to preserve our individual privacy, or should we preserve it at all.

No comments: