Connected But Stripped

Everything is so connected these days the things you browse on the Internet will turn into an ad in a matter of seconds.

I noticed this a while back when I had a problem with my kitchen faucet, and I had to browse the Internet to check current prices and trends. Next thing I know, all the ads on my smartphone’s music-streaming app were about faucets & kitchen accessories.

Or here’s another one: I got my knee injured while jogging one morning, to which I quickly started looking up on the Internet for ways I can be able to home-treat it. For the next couple of days, my TV was bombarded with ads of painkillers–not just any type of painkillers–but those specifically made for knee & other leg injuries.

Yes, my apps know what I browse; cable providers track my taste; the big stores know what & on which brands I spend on. And it feels like in few years time, my service providers will know more about me than I do about myself (well, that’s if they already don’t!).

I understand that this internet-connectedness came out of the desire to improve our lives.

You know today-with simple, free of charge apps-I’m able to know the arrival time of the next buses/trains around my whereabouts, and this gives me the power to plan my itinerary ahead of time and to the minute detail. And it’s reported that very soon, oral-care product manufacturers will be connecting toothbrushes to the Internet and to our other devices, so we’ll be kept reminded to floss after we brush our teeth.

Certainly, these and similar services add up to the quality of life.

But there’s a catch to it – the connectedness doesn’t stop there. Data are being collected & stored; computers are being given access to analyze those data, and marketers are being allowed to act according to the findings.

Yes, these life-improving services we are getting accustomed to out of our connectedness do come with a price – a compromise on our security and privacy.

Health insurance companies would love access to our fitness data to set premiums; hackers are ever determined to embezzle our properties; and dictatorial governments are using the data to oppress us.

As the Associated Press reported few months back, (Promise and peril in an ultra-connected world) – quoting a law professor at Harvard University – “it’s difficult for people to say no when presented with immediate benefits because any potential problems are vague and years away”.

Indeed, people are – out of their own freewill – giving out their most private information on social media. Facebook reads your mind; Twitter checks what you’re doing; and Linked-In keeps track of your business. Imagine the kind of pattern a computer can make out of all your statuses and tweets just from these social platforms alone!

Yet another interesting article appeared on March about internet privacy: Julian Angwin, the author of Dragnet Nation: A Quest for Privacy, Security, and Freedom in a World of Relentless Surveillance, opined in The New York Times about internet privacy under the title, Has Privacy Become a Luxury Good?

“In our data-saturated economy, privacy is becoming a luxury good,” wrote Julian Angwin, “After all, as the saying goes, if you aren’t paying for the product, you are the product. And currently, we aren’t paying for very much of our technology.”

This award-winning investigative journalist/author wasn’t just concerned about the compromise in privacy of an ever-linked up world, but also how difficult and costly it has become to protect it.

And for some, what’s far more worrying is the possible development of an all-seeing, overbearing state. From the recent controversial cases of Edward Snowden, to the not forgotten WikiLeaks, people around the world are being constantly alarmed of a latent Big Brother in the making, regardless of where they are.

Even then, it seems most of us are neither prepared nor ready to ward off such eventualities. We still overlook the fact that our apps aren’t just providing us free information/services but, they’re also obtaining our information at no cost to sell it for other interested parties.

Yes, apparently, we’re glad for being able to know at what time the bus arrives at our neighborhood stop using our phone’s GPS, than worrying about the possibility that the same phone could be constantly giving out signals of our whereabouts to an unknown entity.

We sill believe in the benefits of having a free email account or using an Internet search engine, more than its possible downside of our personal information being scanned by the service providers so it can be offered to third parties, who could possibly use it to our disadvantage and even against our interests.

Perhaps some of us have already given in, thinking it is a battle long lost with the advent of the Internet itself, and as a result, we may have chosen to stay connected in exchange of being naked. Or some of us may have not yet recognized what lies at stake – we may be still questioning if there will ever be a risk of this scale simply for getting connected.

Whichever side of the fence you fall on, one thing is to remain true: The security and privacy issues of the Internet will grow to be one of the most vexing part of our lives for years to come.


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