The FBI is reading David Petraeus's email. Apple wants to help you find your phone, and your browser knows what kind of underwear you prefer. Welcome to the new paradigm of privacy: There isn't any.
Remember back in the day when the phone just rang and rang if you weren't home? Maybe the answering machine eventually picked up, or maybe the caller just tried back later. Fast forward a few years. Big Brother knows which of the 31 Baskin-Robbins flavors you chose, because your iPhone has a secret app designed to detect the difference in the level of corn syrup between Mint Chocolate Chip and Baseball Nut and report it to the government to be used against you in a court of law.
Communication (especially Internet-based) is an amazing thing. It saves lives, makes money, and brings disparate forces together for the common good. But there's a dark side to everything. In this day and age, that dark side comes with a Lord of the Rings-style fiery eyeball watching everything we do, day in and day out.
For the business community, this is the ultimate double-edged sword. I think it's fair to say that we're better off today than we were when IBM (this site's sponsor) was making cash registers and adding machines. But, boy, could those guys keep a secret. There was no Internet on which to air one's dirty laundry, no prying eyes to intercept executive correspondence, and no microtrading to eviscerate one's stock price 12 milliseconds after the publication of an erroneous report detailing the cancellation of parts to build the world's most successful product. (I'm talking to you, Apple.)
One day, perhaps, we'll find a happy medium between always on and blissfully ignorant. But today's world of commerce is based on the kind of geolocated, instantly messaged, gotta-have-it-yesterday mentality that breeds more privacy-busting technology in one day than J. Edgar Hoover managed to cram into his entire career.
A few weeks ago, I attended the famous Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas to catch a glimpse of the future. I was dazzled by all those smart TVs that featured the most amazing cloud-based functionality. But I couldn't help thinking about the reams of data half a dozen different corporations were going to collect regarding my private TV-watching habits.
Mass Media, Mass Appeal
Apparently, Kevin Jacoby wasn't the only CES attendee interested in visiting LG's booth.
I also saw a tiny device that could be attached to anything or anyone and had only one purpose: to locate anything or anyone via GPS, wherever it happens to be. Helpful? Could be. A little weird? Yep.
Finally, I visited a booth displaying a wristband designed to measure your vital biorhythms, the number of steps you take in a day, your location, your temperature, your stress level, and more. Once it knows your favorite color and the name of your brother's goldfish, the wristband communicates all this information to a nearby cellphone, which then sends all your stats to a nameless, faceless cloud server for processing and data mining. Is George Orwell spinning in his grave right now or what?
As I was considering the implications of this potentially insidious device, I ran into an executive I never really liked from a company you've likely heard of (but which shall remain nameless). His take on this device: "Hey, that's great. I should put one of those on all my employees."
— Kevin Jacoby is CEO of Rain Computers, which specializes in high-performance solutions for audio and visual production.