A recent pull request in Audacity’s GitHub repository sparked a reasonable amount of controversy regarding telemetry. For context, Audacity is an audio editing program, reve red for its availability and “openness”. A sizeable portion of the more technically minded users of the program seemed to be outraged at the decision, and with good reasons: the addition of a networking stack for a seemingly superfluous telemetry requirement opens up security holes where previously existed few, providing a great amount of risk for the end user for little to no benefit. Furthermore, the telemetry is not anonymous, and requires the vendoring of libcurl, adding a layer of complexity to a simple program.
The concerns of the Audacity users are reasonable ones, but we must ask ourselves if the same isn’t being done in other sectors of society, with greater impacts and at much higher scales. It’s a matter of deciding which applications require tracking/telemetry and where to draw the line between usefulness and mindless risk. However, with the advent of IoT, people are more eager than ever to bring interne t connected sensors, connectivity and nannies into their lives, so where could that line be drawn? That varies from person to person. Personally, I wouldn’t trade my privacy for the “convenience” of knowing how many steps I took in a day or how much salt I dumped into my food.
Nevertheless, that isn’t universal. Knowing the costs of tracking is important, resulting in more informed decisions, a reduction in e-waste and resource consumption, less impactful breaches and possibly a healthier lifestyle not con sumed by the overbearing presence of information.
It is obvious that something is connected to the internet, it can be hacked. Human nature dictates not a single system is devoid of failure points or security breaches (intentional or not), as evidenced most recently by the Ubiquiti breaches. There is a good reason we don’t vote through the internet.
Vulnerabilities are discovered daily, putting hundreds of millions of IoT devices at risk. If you think your device m ade by some random company is somehow impenetrable, not even the Brazilian healthcare system is free of insecurity (article in Portuguese). It’s indi spensable to understand the scope of information transmission by your devices, and if possible, reduce it to a minimum. If you don’t need to turn your bedroom light all the way from Iraq, consider getting a lightbulb with a limited comm unication range, utilizing local networks and/or Bluetooth/infrared, lest you’ll have your smart grill turned on at 3 AM by someone from a different country.
Furthermore, limit the amount of information being gathered: rethink if you really need to know at all times if your supply of Nutella is sufficient for the current week. Think as if your information will, inevitably, get leaked or s old to advertisers. Do you really want marketers/hackers to know your family’s daily routine? That brings us into the next topic: the market will always play against your interests.
A few things are certain in life: death, taxes, and corporations selling your information for profit. If the threat of multi-billion dollar companies knowing every detail about your life isn’t scary enough, think about what they migh t do with it.
“Oh, they’ll be able to pick better ads for me and that’s it, right?” No. The future is here: insurance com panies already use your information (mostly without your explicit consent) to increase rates for at-risk patients or create a profile about you based around stereotypes.
Playing with your life isn’t enough; every single morsel of information is invaluable to companies who profit from manipulating the public as well. Voter manipulatio n is easier with enough information, plus, your information is already being used to ma nipulate you into voting for certain candidates. With further tracking, companies could establish profiles and know what parties a person with certain habits is more likely to vote for, therefore, politicians could tailor their camp aigns to target especially vulnerable people.
Knowledge about habits is being sold and used to attack our psychological vulnerabilities, get us to consume more and behave like the ones who hold that information want us to. If you’re somehow impassible when it comes to targeted content, that’s not the only thing you have to worry about, sadly.
Getting your information stolen and sold (which honestly, also falls under the “stolen” umbrella) isn’t enough; hyperconnectivity could also elicit psychological degradation by itself. Sure, being able to power your coffee machine from bed is nice enough, but what I’m aiming at is the burden of being constantly watched and connected. You’re already carrying a machine that is able to access an unfathomable amount of information constantly, do you need to get constantly bombarded?
Virtual assistants, smart mirrors, smart TVs. Soon enough, your microwave will scream the daily news at you. We’re never truly alone, and that takes a toll. You know you could just pull your phone and distract yourself, or get constantly reminded of what’s around you (sometimes in an overly sensationalized way). Not only that, you’re expected to be able to re ply immediately for 16 hours a day (maybe even during your sleep). All of these stress us out.
Plus, do you really need to overthink every detail of your life? Do you need to constantly worry about your breathing and compare it to what might be recommended? Do you seriously need to turn every waking moment of your life into a game of comparison? I’m not saying that you should disregard your health, but instead, leave interpreting data to professionals. Gathering information is one thing, processing it is another.
Misinterpreting information or being overly worried about details that don’t affect you as much as you’d think leads to hypochondriasis and health anxiety. Even worse, with enough misinformation, someone might start barking at the wrong tree and start over analyzing factors that have no effect on health whatsoever, such as measuring the pH of your tap water.< /span>
That does not apply only to health; an excess of informa tion leads to anxiety and we should limit ourselves to a reasonable intake of information. Not knowing if your car is about to throw a piston through the hood is one thing, but being unaware of the amount of pressure exerted by your walking pattern is perfectly fine.
It’s OK to not know some things. Your life is not a nuclear power plant; you don’t need to worry about minuscule details 24/7 or push for maximum efficiency on mundane things such as closing some curtains that are a couple of meters away from you. Of course, depending on your physical conditions, that might be unfeasible, but if you can, go for it: consider walking up to the curtains and shutting them.
We’re already being spied on, lied to, manipulated every single day of our lives. The very few moments we truly have to appreciate some of our own thoughts should not be shared with corporations, hackers and robots. Leave less to the machines and more to yourself.
No, I’m not for destroying all technology and returning to an earlier state in our society. I work with technology and I spend more time looking at a screen than I’d like to admit, maybe that’s why I’m so disenchanted. All we gotta d o is consider spending the 40 bucks that would be spent on a WiFi enabled coffee machine on something that’ll bring us considerably more enjoyment. No amount of superfluous gadgetry can make us happy, it’ll just make someone else richer .
Hell, even if you really want that much information, why not consider this an opportunity to learn more about electronics and build something yourself?