This week Twitter sources revealed data security issues that woke many up to the issue of privacy in the modern world. Hidden in Samsung’s smart TV’s voluminous term and conditions was a passage that seemed straight out of 1984. This shiny new television contains voice activation technology that could record your private conversations and send that data to third parties. This revelation shocked many. The reason, I assume, is that the television is fundamentally at the centre of many of our homes. Consequently, the lack of privacy in this personal domain really seemed like technology had definitely crossed the line.
The breaking rumours of the Samsung TV discovery called the press to arms. Many articles stated that we were on the precipice of a privacy turning point. A change, we were told, was becoming apparent. Users were increasingly realising that the cost of their shiny new tech was that “snooping” on their data has become the norm. The reality in user perception is surely somewhat different though?
Why are we not as worried as we should be?
This is not a defence of Samsung and its large number of data mining friends. Yes, data privacy should most certainly be a concern. But the harsh reality is probably we remain largely apathetic to the truth. This is not a case of blissful public ignorance, but blissful acceptance. When given the choice between a fully securing your data or an often free effective service, most users still opt for the latter. That trend, I would argue, seems unlikely to change.
Extraordinary claims of course need extraordinary evidence and I by no means deny that personal privacy concerns are growing. This is unquestionable. The tangible concern shown towards issues such as (ed. go make a coffee, this may take a while…) the Heartbleed bug, the Snowden leaks, Uber’s God Mode, the Sony Hack, â€˜the Fappening’, the Snapchat hack, the Snapsave hack, the popularity of FireChat in the Umbrella Revolution attempt, the David Cameron encrypted OTT prohibition backlash and the Australian government’s 18 month metadata storage legislation, clearly demonstrate a growing public unease with the reach of technology. So I agree. When it comes to big corporation’s lack of security of our data, the zeitgeist narrative is that things are, as best said in Saving Private Ryan, FUBAR.
But, do we actually kinda like Big Brother?
Yet, if 2014 really was â€˜the year of the hack’ its lesson has surely been ignored? The bigger trend seems less for privacy, but for a more quantified, pre-gratified self.
We are prepared to give more and more our data in return for a better, more personal service. Wearables, monitoring everything from our heartbeat to travel patterns, continue their unrelenting growth. We reveal our reading, music, film, diet, grocery, clothing preferences in the hope of receiving a tailored playlist/ recommendation / food alternative/ style suggestion based on previous behaviour. Push notifications that personally target us with the offers we want traction far more engagement than their vaguer, less creepy, mass message cousins. Social networks flourish under the premise that the personal can also be public. Our cherished data online is our brand, rather than something to be hidden. Elsewhere, smart connected homes operate by intimately knowing our daily habits seem to be the future tech battleground. We want our devices to interact to provide us with a better service with minimal effort. This tech future we consciously cultivate currently means sacrificing a colossal load of privacy.
Is the battle over then?
I am of course aware that technological advancement and privacy concern is not a dichotomy. The need for future effective regulation is obvious. It is just the question remains, who is this demand going to really come from? Who is going to force the data privacy issue to really matter and be changed? When government reacts, the public and tech industry condemns it. When technology firms promise too self-regulate, they do so with two fingers crossed behind their back. Consumers in turn nod politely, accepting smiles as fake as Father Christmas. As for when the public raises alarm, it quickly forgets when the next bit of kit appears.
Our next move?
So the lesson? Do not assume greater data privacy protection is inevitably on its way. Until the public is clear on what it is prepared to sacrifice for privacy expect our 1984 reunion to ultimately continue.
This article was written by Matthew Dow, Mobile Executive at Fetch.