Smart Gadgets Spy?

By Michele Bacigalupo

Photo courtesy of Keoni Cabral.

As technology advances to higher levels of intelligence, a dystopian universe may be on the horizon. As the TV series Black Mirror forewarns, our reliance on technology may prove disastrous to the human race. Heightened computer systems may simplify our lives temporarily, but they also expose humanity to vulnerable circumstances.

However, given the current state of technology, our privacy is already at risk of being hacked. Without even contemplating the implications of future inventions, its perfectly valid to be concerned with the way things are now. By relying heavily on credit cards, email, and the internet in general, we agree to gamble with our personal security. Once a consumer hands over such a massive amount of personal information to someone else, such risks are inevitable.

One way to combat our risky digital status is to closely monitor our data usage. Technology has become so ingrained in our culture that it’s relatively easy to misuse or abuse its power. With the rise of connected devices, we need to be cognizant of the internet’s infiltration into our private lives.

A web of connected devices, which are sometimes referred to as smart objects, promises to make life more convenient, but there is a danger in linking so many things to only one name. Connected devices create an expansive ocean of personal information. If the wrong person breaches this storage of consumer data, it may result in identity theft or another problematic situation. Since the current state of technology already jeopardizes a person’s security, the ubiquity of a linked smart objects network will only complicate the level of risk.

The world’s human population currently amounts to approximately seven billion. To put things in perspective, smartphone shipments reached a new milestone in January 2014, surpassing one billion units in a single year according to a report from the IDC. The low cost of Samsung’s Android largely contributed to the record-breaking statistic. However, according to tech experts, the rising prevalence of smartphones should be the least of our concerns.

Samsung’s SmartTV encourages users to take advantage of its voice activation system and voice command features. However, in order to use these features, they must be kept on at all times. The voice activation system allows the device to hear everything within technological earshot. Essentially, Samsung’s SmartTV is adequately equipped to act as a constant spy in the home. Understandably, consumers are in an uproar.

The Daily Beast recently investigated Samsung’s privacy policy agreement, which the company has made available online. In the agreement, consumers are warned of the potential for the SmartTV to record information transmitted through the voice recognition feature. The policy further states that the information may later be sent to a third-party service for analysis.

Although the effects of these spy transmissions remain to be seen, The Daily Beast recommends a wise course of action for the time being is to keep the living room conversation “as direct and non-incriminating as possible.” Don’t say anything in front of the TV that you wouldn’t say around a police officer or person of high authority. For all you know, what you discuss over dinner may find its way to the ears of a government official.

Since, arguably justified, paranoia presently surrounds the consequences of the SmartTV, Samsung has responded to allegations by stating that users have the choice whether or not to activate the voice command feature.

On a lighter side of the smart object spectrum, wearables are another trend that we can expect to see more of this year. Wearables are gadgets typically worn by a consumer, which involve computer tracking technology. Attached to a user, wearable devices are often designed to help a person achieve a specific goal whether it be to lose weight, increase physical activity, or keep track of emails and phone calls. Although smart jewelry is invasive in a less threatening manner than other connected devices, it still has access to a wealth of personal information, a fact that should not be overlooked.

Rest assured that the phenomenon of smart devices is not expected to fade anytime soon. Tech experts predict a 30 percent increase in the interconnectivity of objects to occur in 2015, based on the use of such devices in an Internet of Things (IoT). The IoT, which remains a concept, will theoretically connect every feasible device with an on/off switch to the internet. The possibilities of the IoT are limitless and we can only wait to see exactly how such a vast network plays out.

It is important to remember that the more smart objects are connected, the more opportunities arise for hackers to infiltrate them. Be sure to remain vigilant over which devices carry what pieces of information.