[This is the 3rd of 6 insights we gathered from the Consumer Electronics Show this year at Las Vegas, Nevada, United States]
In acclaimed novel ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’, published in 1949, George Orwell described a dystopian future ruled by a totalitarian government lead by a dictator, Big Brother In the novel, the people under omnipresent government surveillance are constantly reminded of the phrase, “Big Brother is watching you.”
The phrase has permeated into pop culture and is often associated with the US government’s National Security Agency (NSA) PRISM program; a clandestine mass electronic public surveillance & data mining program that had its operational documents leaked into the news last year to public outcry.
Most recently, the NSA finds itself under fire for documents citing the use of radio waves to hack over 100K computers worldwide to pave way for launching cyber attacks as a form of ‘active defence’.
The fact that the authorities could be watching our every move drove many to take precautions, leading loyal Google users to switch to DuckDuckGo, a privacy-minded search engine. Techcrunch reported that DuckDuckGo’s Popularity Exploded In 2013 Following The NSA/PRISM Leaks.
At CES 2014, we saw many categories of consumer electronics, being connected wirelessly to the Internet out of convenience. Some might call it the rise of The Internet of Things, a trend partly fueled by early adopters who advocate a subculture known as ‘quantified-self’: a movement to incorporate technology into data acquisition on aspects of a person's daily life in terms of inputs (e.g. food consumed, quality of surrounding air), states (e.g. mood, arousal, blood oxygen levels), and performance (mental and physical) through wearable sensors.
Fitness trackers have been popular since CES 2013 and this year we saw more brands unveiling their own wearable technology this year. This includes Razer (a company which makes gaming accessories), Garmin (a company known for its GPS receivers) and Jaybird (a company known for its headphones and earphones). Even known electronic brands like Epson and LG have entered the category with their own version of Pulsense and Lifeband respectively. There’s even one fashioned for women, the June bracelet by Netatmo, which measures sun exposure.
Just like the most popular social networks we use today, the amount of personal data such devices track and what we are able to do with it is both fascinating and worrying. Big data is no longer all about mining and making sense of data, but presents a far bigger problem and opportunity that few people talk about: data privacy and security.
Even the most ubiquitous photocopier, commercialized in the 1950s, have been been breaching data privacy by storing its lifetime of documents it has scanned in its internal storage hard disk.
Arkami Inc, a startup which launched myIDkey, a voice-activated, fingerprint secure Bluetooth/USB drive that displays passwords and personal info online and on the go, at CES 2013 to much fanfare was also at this year’s CES. myIDkey’s Kickstarter campaign exceeded its funding goal by more than 300% last year to bring the prototype into mass production. The product’s popularity could represent the desire to secure account login and banking information in a secure manner that does not store such sensitive information on our computers or electronic devices.
myIDkey Kickstarter backers represent a group of savvy consumers who are exploring ways to maintain privacy and stay away from the watchful eyes of Big Brother.
After all, playing with data is like playing with fire. We can only hope that if man can conquer fire, man will eventually be able to tame data. The possibility that a copy of the data from whatever we track could also be sitting in the database of a government server means that we will see more companies like Arkami Inc. launching products to insure our fears in the years ahead.