Wireless and Privacy

April 26 edition of The Economist carries a 14-page insert on the evolving wireless revolution, focusing on wireless sensors and gadgets, their military and civilian applications. Presumably, connecting things without wires will bring greater communications and deployment efficiencies and versatility.

As machines talk to other machines, they may uncover facts and relationships that are not apparent to people. That may enable factories to “learn” and find ways to become more efficient. What happens on the factory floor will make its way, in a different form, to office buildings and homes. The next step is for wireless technology to enter human beings themselves.

In an earlier blog entry, I wrote of an intelligent scaffoldings that a super mobile-and-wired network mesh can create infused with self-connecting wireless devices and drawing on a service-rich network infrastructure.

Some concers about this type of technology linger. Here's Economist's rendition of one of these concerns. 

A greater concern in the long term is privacy. Today's laws often assume that privacy is guaranteed by a pact between consumer and company, or citizen and state. In a world where many networks interconnect on the fly and information is widely shared, that will not work. At a minimum, wireless networks should let users know when they are being monitored.

Yes, privacy matters when a lot of in-formation is available about certain individuals while similar information about others is fully hidden. (In a real village, everyone knows similar things about everyone else, and any privacy stops at one's door, if there.)

When it comes to sensors, the question is how privacy-valuable is the information regarding a person's body temperature, place in the world and the acceleration by which they are moving. (Yes, this data can be used maliciously but I'm certainly willing to carry a SunSpot if that makes someone happy.)

This type of argument does not get into the heart of the matter. For example, this type of information can hardly reveal how willing I might be to go visit a friend, watch a particular movie or stay put. This type of information may, on the other hand,  give some useful clues to my doctors, for example, if I suffer from some malignant disease or if I'm a rare, endangered species of tiger. (Yes, all tigers are endangered these days.)

So, I think the privacy issue may be a bit exaggerated, and I think we have to be aware that in-formation about someone does not necessarily mean any real knowledge about that person.

Comments:

Funny...WSJ has this today (tho' this article is not as futuristic): The Future of Wireless

Posted by Umang Kumar on April 30, 2007 at 07:01 AM PDT #

Umang -

Thanks for the link to the WSJ article. Although the primary focus of that article is on WiFi, I still find the following piece, which comes before the discussion on bridging the "digital divice," quite interesting -- including the business model Fon is using:

Take last week's deal between Spain's Fon (pronounced "fonn") and Time Warner Cable (pronounced "Time Warner Cable")

Fon sells wireless routers (called La Foneras) that let its members (Foneros) split their Wi-Fi connection into an encrypted channel for their own personal use and a public channel for the use of passers-by, creating a network of public wireless hotspots. Fon divides Foneros into three types: A Linus shares his or her access and in return can log onto any Fon hotspot free of charge; an Alien doesn't share access and can get 24 hours of access to the Fon network for $2 or $3; and a Bill shares his or her access and skips free log-on rights in exchange for half the money Fon collects from Aliens using that Bill's Wi-Fi connection. Fon's clever: It offers options for regular, on-the-go Internet users and businesses looking to make a little money from Wi-Fi, then throws some social-networking whimsy into the mix. (With a dash of marketing -- note that Fon's definition of "Alien" makes the entire world Foneros.) That said, the idea isn't one that makes you automatically think the world's rearranging itself. For one thing, U.S. ISPs' position on sharing an Internet connection wirelessly has been clear: It's stealing. From those ISPs' perspective, Fon must seem a hair too close to the dark side of social networking -- an interesting business model predicated on your customers stealing your product and handing it out to others.

Posted by M. Mortazavi on April 30, 2007 at 10:46 AM PDT #

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