The Internet of Things, in a nutshell, describes the interconnectivity of devices in the home, office, factory, and throughout the world. The IoT allows devices to "talk" to each other, allows data to be available anywhere at any time, and gives users (and devices!) remote control over technology.
It makes automation very simple - but it also raises a number of privacy concerns.
Blazing Trails Means Stepping on a Lot of Snakes
The Internet of Things is an unexplored frontier. We're still feeling out the Internet itself, which became available for public use in 1991. Lawmakers are still struggling to handle issues of online violence, crime, and evidence related to IRL investigations.
Is online activity, information, and behavior private? Can we regulate it? Should we regulate it?
The IoT takes it one step further. All of your activity can now be tracked and stored in the Cloud via your connected devices. We saw a major issue with this when nude celebrity photos were leaked from their Cloud accounts in 2015. Many of the photos had been deleted - but they were still accessible to hackers.
This raises moral questions about online activity - should we even have an expectation of privacy if we use these services? How do we mete out justice, when millions of people are sharing the private leaked data? The original hacker is obviously at fault - but what about those who link to, repost, and save the images?
Now, we see the IoT involved in a CSI-esque case that raises similar questions about privacy, data availability, and criminal investigations.
In November 2016, a dead body was found in a backyard.
Police opened a murder investigation, and upon inspection of the house, found a number of smart devices hooked up in the home. One clever detective thought, "Hey, smart home devices save and record everything they're told. Maybe there's some murdery info on these things."
One of the smart devices was an Amazon Echo, a device that you can ask questions and talk to (like a tiny home assistant that knows everything). You simply start your question with "Alexa" and the device will "wake up" and listen to you.
(So, if the Echo had picked up anything related to the crime, it had to be "woken up" first. The chances are small that it picked up anything during the crime.)
Setting a Precedent
Here's the moral question, again: Should we have an expectation of privacy when we knowingly purchase devices that are "always listening," even if they don't record everything?
Amazon believes so - so do Apple and other companies whose devices connect to the Cloud and IoT. And they're willing to fight for it. An Amazon spokeswoman said, "Amazon will not release customer information without a valid and binding legal demand properly served on us."
Others believe the Internet and Cloud are open books, and such data should be readily accessible.
This is unexplored terrain. Should we be regulating these landscapes for cases such as these?
Does online freedom and the expectation of privacy overwrite the possibility of justice for victims?
If we want privacy, do we have to go off the grid completely?
I certainly don't have the answers. I'm interested to see how these stories pan out as the IoT becomes increasingly relevant in criminal investigations.
Expectations of Privacy vs. Transparent Marketing Data
What does this have to do with growing your business? (Hopefully, leaked nudes and murder are tangentially related at best.)
Marketers are fully aware of data transparency on the Internet and IoT. We love the access to detailed analytics, activity tracking on our websites, and closed loop reporting.
Others (many of whom aren't involved in marketing) dislike the amount of data marketers can gather from online activity. It's creepy to look up something on Amazon and see ads for that thing on your Facebook feed five minutes later.
For business owners, marketing data is invaluable for optimizing content and the user experience. If you have concrete data, it's easier to provide information that's helpful and relevant to prospects. That means it's easier to make sales and grow your business.
For website visitors and content consumers, it's creepy, but it does make life easier. It provides more relevant answers to questions and ensures we see quality content from businesses. We're all tired of annoying traditional "shotgun" advertising - marketing analytics are partly why those practices are dying out.
Most people would be happy to never see an ad again. But if we're going to get them anyway, it seems beneficial for everyone that they're relevant to our interests.
Personally, I have no answers. There are pros and cons to both sides - where you stand simply comes down to your preferences and beliefs.
We've been fighting over privacy vs. transparency for a long, long time. We'll be fighting about it long into the future - and I don't believe we'll ever come to a concrete conclusion. The IoT and Cloud services only put a new spin on the debate.
What are your thoughts on the IoT, marketing data, and murder?