Who Is Buying Your Personal Information and the Internet of Things?


Who owns your personal information? Who gives companies the right to collect data about you, your family, your friends, your activities, where you live, what you eat, drink, your health, how you travel? Somewhere along the line you probably did, because you didn’t read, or understand the fine print when you signed up for an application, an email newsletter, a loyalty card, or you aren’t worried about your privacy.

There has been much talk about the NSA, and big data monitoring systems in most countries around the world designed to protect us all from terrorism. There has been a lot of talk about how privacy is being eroded with social media. Many of us have the philosophy that if we don’t do anything wrong, we have nothing to hide. But who else is collecting, buying and selling personal information about you?

FuturistA recent story in The Futurist called ‘Connecting with our Connected World captured my attention, particularly when it outlined, from a Wall Street Journal article,  apparently fairly common knowledge, that many retail stores track personal shopping habits using loyalty cards and then resell the data to marketers. The Wall Street Journal article ‘confirmed’ that this same data is now being purchased by insurance companies for the purpose of setting premiums and investigating claims.

With the Internet of Things (IoT), we are now being encouraged to buy fridges with built in bar code readers and wireless connectivity, so that we can scan items we use and feed them to our shopping list. Many of us now have grocery applications, such as the Countdown app, which I have blogged about before in my SoLoMo Consulting blog.These apps monitor what you buy, suggest specials, recipes and even navigate you up and down the aisles of your nearest supermarket so you don’t have to backtrack for things you forgot.

As Richard Yonck of Intelligent Future LLC in Seattle points out in The Futurist, “the rate at which a household consumes sugar, salt, tobacco and alcohol would potentially be an open book.” What could your health insurer infer from that?

It names them

It names them

Combine the information from your mobile apps that know your location, where you have given permission (which is probably half of the apps you use today), your climate control, light controls (that suggest you might be home, or not), fitness apps, social media (freely searchable with tools like Facebook Graph like the example which names people who like Edam cheese,) the direction Google and Apple are heading, to be able to predict what services you may want next based on your context, profile, time and location, your life is an open book today.

The problem with all this big data that we are ‘willingly’ sharing, is that we really don’t know what we are agreeing to or what the data is being used for. I don’t believe we have adequate laws nationally or internationally to protect us from abuse of this data by any agency, business, government department, insurance company, utility company, finance company, the list is infinite.

According to a story in The Public Herald it’s pretty much a free for all. For example they say:

  • Experion sells data updated weekly on new parents, new homeowners and other new event life triggers.
  • Have a read of what information Epsilon sells in this PDF. Who reads Science Fiction novels? Ever wondered why your phone keeps ringing with charities asking for donations? They buy lists.
  • Back to the Public Herald which says that Disney sells data including who bought what, the age and gender of the children, age and occupation of the people who purchased from them and more.

These are just scratching the surface. It isn’t necessarily all bad, the problem is that there doesn’t appear to be any authority tracking who shares what information with whom. The issues come down to informed consent. When you sign a form, enter a competition online with an attractive prize and you click, ‘yes, you can share my information with partners who may have items of interest to me’ perhaps because you think you might have a higher chance of winning the prize, you are losing control of your data.

There are laws designed to protect us from spam, but we often sign away rights without understanding the implications. Companies selling our data will argue that they have our approval to use and share our information. The flow of data will become so convoluted that it will become impossible to know who has what. Big Data companies will consolidate this data also with our ‘implied’ approval.

Governments need to be thinking about this now, if it is not already too late. Of course they arguably need the data as well in order to provide quality health, education and other services, including planning future smart cities. They need as much data as possible, although they don’t in many cases need the granular level down to individual people.

So as a footnote, think about all the cool Internet of Things you are buying over the next couple of years, like exercise devices, remote controlled security cameras and home access, climate control, sleep and snoring monitors, lighting, car telematics, electronic ticketing for public transport and much more, weigh up the cool with potential risk and consider that if legitimate organizations can access your data, so potentially can people wanting to commit crimes. It is already known that burglars steal product to order based on what they find on social media apps like Facebook (had a great weekend on the jet ski and now I’m off to Fiji for a couple of weeks and I’m putting the dogs in a kennel).

New Ways To Read The News


I’ve written before about the newspaper industry and why newspapers will fade away. In Jeff Jarvis’ book What Would Google Do? there is a prediction that the last newspaper will be printed in 2040.

I no longer subscribe to a daily paper. I do scan the office copy and have a Firefox widget that gives me access to my local paper the New Zealand Herald although they haven’t updated it since March and it doesn’t work properly with the latest Firefox version.

Where I get most of my news from is in fact Twitter. Lots of people still don’t understand the power of Twitter. I’ve found it is the best way to get up to date information about what is going on locally and internationally. If I want to get information, I simply do a search on my Twitter client, Hootsuite, which I can save as a stream so I don’t have to keep searching.

In addition, I use the paper.ly service and have 2 daily Twitter newspapers where the content is generated by the people or businesses I follow. I have 2 daily papers. One is for my generic Twitter account, and the other is for my songwriting business.

The service I use is called Paper.li and my daily online newspapers which you can subscribe to for free are the Luigi Cappel Daily and the other is my Cappel Music paper. I can go to either of these papers and read stories that are of interest to me. The reason I can do this, is because it aggregates Twitter stories with links from people I follow.

A benefit of this is that it focuses me on following people that have something to say that I am in fact interested in. So if you follow me on Twitter you will see that I typically hover around the 2,000 follows as opposed to some people who follow and collect people like they were trying to follow everyone. If I follow you and your tweets don’t interest me, I won’t be following you for long. Doesn’t mean you don’t have something valid to say, just that I only have so much time and there is so much going on.

So my newspaper has a front page and today it includes stories such as Google TV devices being delayed, South Korea’s military exercises, arrests in a UK terror plot, the latest in the Pike River Coal Mine Disaster, faulty Kindles and more. There is a Stories Page, an Arts and Entertainment Page, a Technology Page, and more. You can even subscribe to my paper, or make your own and its all free.

I mentioned searches on Twitter for news as well. I won’t go into hashtags, you can google that if you are interested, but for a couple of examples, here is a search on Heathrow, which has been closed for several days because of snow and ice. The best way to find out what is going on is from people who are there. You’ll probably find photos and lots of human interest stories as well as the latest information. Interesting as I write this, Sky News were saying on TV that Heathrow Airport doesn’t want their cameras at the airport interviewing angry people waiting for their delayed flights.

Another topical example is North Korea which is obviously of great concern to those of us who don’t want to see a new war front.

This isn’t the only way I get news, I also have an iGoogle page which is my RSS feed aggregator. I keep standard news searches there for things that interest me as well as tools such as currency converters, time zone calculations so I don’t miss my online tutorials from Berklee Music out of Boston, weather forecasts and lots more.

So do I need a print newspaper? No. Is that good? Well putting my ecological hat on, according to Wikipedia, 35% of all trees felled are used to generate paper. Newspapers must be a massive proportion of that. We know that we need trees to combat climate change, so I’m doing my little bit:)

Death of the newspaper

More on In Vitro Meat


A couple of years ago I wrote about the potential to grow your own food including  in vitro meat. The first experiments produced something rubbery and inedible, but things have moved on since then.

For a country like New Zealand the idea of creating artificial meat is anathema. We made history in 1882 when the SS Dunedin successfully arrived in London carrying 4931 refrigerated carcasses  of  mutton, lamb and pork.

Whilst in the past meat represented better than 50% of NZ’s export revenue, in 2009 it was a modest 13.2%. On the other hand biotech is becoming so important in New Zealand that it has even made the Secondary School curriculum. Significant consideration is being given to Animal Biofarming in NZ as evidenced by this comprehensive document from the NZ Foundation for Research Science and Technology FRST.

Why would you consider doing something like this. Simple really. A large chunk of the population of the world is hungry and unable to feed itself. Over 1 Billion people fit the definition of living in hunger. That’s more than 3 times the population of the USA! Then there’s water. There is debate in some places that there is no water crisis, but fresh water represents only 3% of the total water on the planet. I won’t go into the countries where drinking water is an issue, its common knowledge and drought as a news search on Google draw almost 13,000 results.

According to Fred Pearce who wrote the book When the Rivers Run Dry, it requires around 24,000 liters of water to grow the feed to make a kilo of beef, or 2,400 liters for a Quarter Pounder.

Now while a cow also produces leather and pet food, and other product a massive amount of each beast is expensive waste product, even if some of it goes back in the ground as fertilizer. Wouldn’t it make sense to be able to just make the meat if you could?

I’ve focused on some of the why’s. I haven’t even touched on the widely held ethical views on growing animals purely so we can eat them. I definitely like my meat, don’t get me wrong. Anyway I will leave with a link to the In Vitro Meat Foundation and a quote from Winstone Churchill in 1932:

“Fifty years hence (…) we shall escape the absurdity of growing a whole chicken in order to eat the breast or wing, by growing these parts separately under a suitable medium”

The last word goes to Jason Metheny of New Harvest

Finger in ear phone and skin touchpad


The technology is still being developed, but while friends are arguing the merits of the latest Android mobiles (and iPhone is dropping on the list off desired product for some reason….) other manufacturers are heading towards the computing implants, step by slow step.

I’ve written about haptic suits before, but this could allow us in some cases to bypass this technology.

Interim technologies include the Invisio Pro-M (which can even work up to 20 meters underwater) which military and other emergency services are experimenting with, that conducts speech with excellent noise cancellation through your bones. If you have a spare US$40,000 you can buy your own stick-finger-in-ear phone.

Meanwhile development continues on the path that Bill Gates promised many years ago with Skinput. He said way back that the computer would become a wearable component. This step isn’t elegant, but these are stepping stones.

What mobile brand will you implant in future?