The crazy ten years, the decade in which technology pushed the limits of our privacy. Technology Threat to Our Privacy: Did you know everything? One of my memories of 2010, apart from howling Iniesta’s goal like an oligophrenic ape and forever learning the name of Eyjafjallajökull from the eruption that put the world in check (before the pandemic we were content with anything), is the from lying on the grass with my friends on a summer night and having a conversation about technology.
At that time I had an iPhone 3GS and a data rate of 500 MB. The waste. My friends asked me what need I had to be connected to the Internet 24 hours a day, to receive e-mails from anywhere or to use “that of Twitter” at all times, to which they did not see the point either.
I was not even twenty years old, so need, rather none. Let’s call it a harmless hobby , especially back then, before hyperconnectivity began to be viewed with suspicion . The point is that all of them, very skeptical, ended up going through the ring of the smartphone and the 3G, and now I am the one who implores them for peace while they go through the carousel of stories . All except one: a skeptic, the irreducible village that resisted the invader, the one who became “the dear friend” who had to be notified by SMS because he did not feel like having WhatsApp. “I do not trust”.
The one that ten years later, every time we get together and talk about Facebook and Cambridge Analytica , Siri eavesdropping or Google knowing us better than our parents , puts on a beatific smile, pronounces his “I already told you I … “and continues to eat paella with the satisfaction of whom time is right.
From Alexa to Google Glass going through the Amazon drone
Serve this manners as a symptom of what the decade of the ten years has meant. The decade in which technology finished transcending, the launches of smartphones became mass events, and not four nerds , and the world economies gave good faith of it . Technology is transversal. Technology is everything.
And technology has also meant, regrettably, a constant setback in terms of privacy. What scandalized us a few years ago today costs us many euros ( or even worse: time ) that we gladly paid. Let’s do a review:
At what point was it possible to put a pair of glasses on the market with which anyone could photograph or record us without us even finding out, even subtly? Google had to backtrack and reorient its Glass towards case-specific business use, with a new version introduced in 2019 . However, its arrival in the mass consumer market was not canceled due to a privacy issue.
Amazon’s alternative ways to leave us a package even if we are not
From Key , his proposal to let his delivery people pass even though we are not inside the house, to the option, less intrusive, of course, of letting them open our car to leave our package there . In any case, disturbing.
Smartphones with permanent listening function
The adorable Moto X of 2013, which marked Motorola’s return to the smartphone arena, was also the one that rattled the cat, becoming the first ever-listening smartphone. “Ok, Google” was the command that activated his assistant, for the first time, without the need for contact.
Although this phone had a very low-power processor that was only dedicated to active listening, and according to Motorola, it did not record or analyze audios but only detected the activation command with a check that called or not the assistant, the truth is which normalized what is now customary: any phone on the market has this function and we have assumed to be heard at all times. Even with an operating system that is based on knowing each other the more the better to offer us hypersegmented advertising .
Voice assistants who share our conversations with humans
In July 2019 it came to light that Google was sharing with outsourced employees some fragments of user conversations with Assistant , 0.2% of the total. A few weeks later, it was leaked that Apple operated exactly the same with its users’ conversations with Siri . Something a bit more painful in that Apple boasts privacy to the point of turning it into a sales pitch.
Both companies did these practices to improve and refine the understanding and response capacity of their attendees. But after the controversy, no matter how anonymized the files were, the hare ended up jumping and both stopped the improvement program. The damage was already done, and sharing these files for human review became an option to be specifically confirmed, not something that came by default in the system and was buried in the settings.
Speakers with microphones for permanent listening in the home
Nobody like Amazon has popularized the arrival of smart speakers, a voice assistant and home automation fundamentals to our homes. He has done it with Alexa, the assistant that helped him to have a name of his own in consumer technology despite his failure with mobile phones . And incidentally, he elevated permanent listening to something acceptable within the home itself.
In 2019 it was also known that employees, and not just machines, were also listening to Alexa conversations with their users . In this time we have seen cases such as a murder with an Echo as the only witness who the police also wanted to “question” or a conversation between a couple that was sent to one of their contacts without a word of activation . And they are even in the shower .
Home assistants with built-in camera
If attendees only made up of a connected speaker and microphone are already pushing the limit of what is acceptable in terms of privacy, we have also seen how devices that added a screen … and a camera to the equation. Nothing so different from what is essentially a tablet, but connected and active 24/7. The issue is that one of the proposals is Portal, from Facebook , whose record in privacy matters weighs heavily.
Aware of this, Facebook put a button / switch dedicated to deactivating the camera and microphone via software with a red LED to signal its disconnection. How many people trust Facebook to actually do this? We do not know, but surely aware that the percentage would not be 100%, Facebook also included a physical cover to block them.
Tracking-based social media
This decade has also been one of the consolidation of social networks as for almost our identity, as well as a communication, information, exhibition and entertainment tool. On the B side of the album, an advertising business based on knowing ourselves as well as possible to segment ourselves in advertising as much as possible. And that happens due to constant excesses with our privacy.
While Twitter has remained on the sidelines of scandals and excesses – we have all seen cases of dismissals or cybercriminals for old tweets – Facebook, as well as its son Instagram, have been permanently under suspicion for their history regarding their ways of extracting our information. TikTok is showing its paw when it comes to being seen as an ugly duckling for our privacy.
We go back to Amazon. Ring, its platform for security cameras for the exterior and the interior of the houses, closed agreements with more than 400 police stations in the United States so that they could monitor what these cameras captured.
Many city councils even subsidized to their neighbors the purchase of these cameras. Public money destined to monitor citizenship and from which a private company benefits. And in the background, users with one of them at home who were not aware of the level of intrusion reached by the employees in charge of refining voice and image recognition by accessing these images.
Ring Always Home
If the last five years has popularized IP cameras for some homes and Ring had a leading role there, Amazon consolidated its role of going one step further with its latest proposal, Ring Always Home , a surveillance drone that flies through our home recording all the rooms so as not to settle for being a static camera in a single room.
Amazon offers the option to indicate routes to follow or avoid, and in the same way mark rooms that are not accessible, in addition to the fact that when the drone rests on its base, the camera is physically covered.
More facial recognition
First premise: there are two main types of facial recognition. One is the one that checks whether or not someone is the person who obtained authorization access. This is what current smartphones do: they check whether or not the pattern of our face matches the one registered to be able to unlock with the mobile. The face as a password. You are Ricardo, go ahead. You are not Ricardo, stop. The other facial recognition is advanced, which is used to detect patterns in the gaze and gestures of our faces that reveal emotions and reactions to different stimuli on a large scale . A nightmare for our privacy that has encountered a surprising obstacle in times of pandemic: masks .
IBM was one of the companies that had made the most progress in terms of facial recognition, but the institutional development regarding it made it rethink its position, and it abandoned that development arguing its opposition to “mass surveillance, racial profiling, violations of human rights and basic freedoms “and despite being one of the five major technology providers of the United States government.
Meanwhile, ClearView AI has spent years collecting and uploading images to the web and converting them into vectors to deploy the largest facial recognition network through which to view all the photos of a person over the years, evaluating their location history. , company, etc. Several security agencies and police forces have used their service, so “good” that it is able to match images correctly even if the faces are partially covered or if they come out of profile.