Computers are more ubiquitous, affordable, and networked than ever, said Kevin Ashton, the entrepreneurial mind behind the Internet of Things and keynote speaker at the second annual Privacy XChange Forum.
What does that mean for your privacy?
"It means your privacy is not just at risk when you interact with your device, it means your privacy is at risk when you interact with the world," said Ashton, general manager of Conserve, a division of consumer electronics giant Belkin International.
Ashton, speaking to more than 150 delegates at the conference, shared key trends that illustrate our move into an age where computers are even more prevalent and compact. First, everything is becoming networked, that is more devices are putting data onto the Internet. Second, we've arrived at census, the ability of these devices to gather information for themselves.
"The future is easy to predict," Ashton said. "What’s hard is believing it."
Now, with geolocation, radio-frequency identification (RFID), and smart home devices such as smart readers, there is more data than ever about people, and it's becoming available on the Internet. For example, it's possible to use social media posts and geolocation information to show where Twitter CEO Dick Costolo was before Twitter went public. With smart meter readers, it's possible to determine when a family wakes up and goes to bed at night, and even what devices they use, right down to the make and model.
Science fiction writers have envisioned a dystopian universe with concepts such as Sense/Net in Neuromancer and Skynet in the movie Terminator.
"Are we really in the post privacy era?" Ashton asked. "I prefer to think about it as the new privacy era."
Ashton shared a few thoughts, not answers, just points about privacy in this new era: There must be benefits to the person who is taking the risk. The data that is revealed about people—such as a location of an image in a tweet—may, in fact, be wrong. And identity in this new world is a constellation of personally identifiable information.
"Privacy is not the default setting on any system you use, and there is a reason why," said Ashton, citing a quote from MetaFilter user blue_beetle, " 'If you are not paying for it, you’re not the customer: you’re the product.' "