There seems to be a convergence of stories recently about privacy and tracking lately. If privacy isn’t dead it certainly seems to be fighting a losing battle while on life support. Where to start? There is a report in CNET on Vint Cerf’s statement, “Privacy may be an anomaly.” The reason for that is the level of detail people are sharing through social media. Another Cerf quote: “Technology has outraced our social intellect.” I find that hard to argue with that concept. There are multitudes of ways to track people and their habits down to fine details.
An older story in Ars Technica tells that Facebook is working on a way to collect mouse movements. As the story points out, it’s not uncommon for web sites to track where someone clicks on a page. That’s one way to determine an ad’s effectiveness. What Facebook intends to do is watch the mouse. How does someone move along the page? Where does the mouse hover and for how long? Mobile views obviously do not use mice, but tracking in this context extends to tracking when a newsfeed is visible. My understanding is that the Facebook like button is its own tracking device between sites whether one has a Facebook account or not.
The next item concerns the humble toothbrush, though it is symbolic of the so-called “Internet of things.” The concept is promoted as a social good in that all of the dumb devices we use will become smart at some point and our interactivity with them will come with new conveniences. Consider this statement from Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff as reported by ZDNET:
“Everything is on the Net. And we will be connected in phenomenal new ways,” said Benioff. Benioff highlighted how his toothbrush of the future will be connected. The new Philips toothbrush is Wi-Fi based and have GPS. “When I go into the dentist he won’t ask if I brushed. He will say what’s your login to your Philips account. There will be a whole new level of transparency with my dentist,” gushed Benioff.
Any marketer would gush over this level of personal detail. It may benefit the doctor-patient relationship, but who else would have access to this information and how will it be used? I’m not sure I would be comforted by doctor-patient confidentiality in these circumstances. I’m sure it will all be in the terms and conditions for the device, or not, at least if the next story’s details are accurate.
A blogger in the U.K. has discovered that his LG smart TV sends details about his viewing habits back to LG servers. Those habits also include the file names of items viewed from a connected USB stick. There is a setting in the TV that purports to turn this behavior off (it’s on by default). It doesn’t work as data is forwarded to LG no matter what the setting. LG responded to this disclosure as reported in the story on Ars Technica:
“The advice we have been given is that unfortunately as you accepted the Terms and Conditions on your TV, your concerns would be best directed to the retailer,” the representatives wrote in a response to the blogger. “We understand you feel you should have been made aware of these T’s and C’s at the point of sale, and for obvious reasons LG are unable to pass comment on their actions.”
Or putting it another way, we don’t care if you’re put out by these practices. Life’s good, as they say, depending on who has the power in these relationships.
When I think of Marc Benioff’s toothbrush scenario I can imagine smart devices coming with embedded chips that connect to the web automatically and upload information. As of now the choice is ours as to whether to connect our devices to the web. I have a DVD player that is web-enabled though I have not turned on that feature. My TV set is huge, but also not connected to the web. My choice, of course, and I may not be typical. In fact, I’m sure I’m not.
I can predict that there will be a time when a web connection is going to be mandatory for some devices to even work out of the box. It’s in every marketer’s interest if that came to be. Or, if I wanted to be exotic, I can predict another pervasive wireless Internet that overlays the one we know and love. It will just be for smart devices that will connect automatically for our “convenience.” There may just be enough moneyed interests to make that happen. Terms and conditions may or may not apply.