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).

WiMax and the end of TV as we knew it


A TV aerial on the roof is something most of us have grown up with. For holiday homes, flats or when on holiday rabbits ears created loads of frustration when they detuned one station as they gave you access to another, but they did mean that you could easily have TV in temporary situations from the batch to the hospital ward. VHF and then UHF aerials are still on most roofs in site, but that is going to become a thing of the past.

The first step is that VHF TV which has been the most common frequency range around the world is going to be switched off as governments in many countries reallocate those frequencies to WiMAX. This will be happening next year in many parts of the US a week or so after the Super Bowl.

Downunder in New Zealand we continue to lag some of the new advances and the VHF frequencies will be available to the TV stations until 2015. It will be interesting to see whether they are still needed for that long given that Satellite TV in the form of Freeview and Sky are already used by 55% percent of the population.

How can they do that? Don’t we need free to air TV? We aren’t necessarily losing it. In New Zealand the free to air TV stations are moving to Freeview, which is pretty much satellite TV with less channels and the only cost is the set top box and the satellite dish. This overcomes most of the issues about poor reception and providing reception to remote areas. But of course it bodes the end of little portable TV’s, but then you can now watch Sky TV on your phone with 8 channels for $2.50 a week, so maybe it is just a change of medium.

So what’s so special about WiMax? Nothing really except that it provides much geater range (up to 50 km for fixed stations and 5-15 for mobile) than the traditional 802.11 wireless networks, can povide much greater speed and when networks are built you can use it in your car. This sounds crazy but it’s really just a follow on from the systems used in large warehouses and buildings first created by Symbol, which pioneered many of the features still used today including frequency shifting for security and handover from one access point to the next as people moved around a building complex. In fact it is not only coming head on in potential competition to mobile cellular but telecommunications networks such as Sprint and Nortel are racing to get frequencies ad become the preferred supplier of 4G networks.

According to Computerworld’s Juha Saarinen, Telco’s in New Zealand are ‘squatting’ on some of the frequencies to prevent 3rd parties to spoil their fun in the 3G networks as they roll out new technologies to increase the speed of the cellular mobile network which is much easier to control and to derive plenty of ARPU (telco’s main measure of success Average Revenue Per User). If WiMax offers higher uploandand download speeds and efficient handover when required, then many people in urban areas might be less interested in WCDMA?

What could they be afraid of? Free access, and they should be afraid. Nottingham Trent University is trialling a network which will give free access to everyone in the city. There are free WiFi hotspots all over Europe, 154 free sites just in the Netherlands. Then there are free Mesh Networks, but that’s yet another story.

While this blog is starting to get a good following, I would love to get more readers and encouraging me to keep writing. If you feel that my blog is interesting I would be very grateful if you would vote for me in the category of best blog at the NetGuide Web Awards. Note that the form starts each site with www whereas my blog doesn’t and is of course http://luigicappel.wordpress.com.

Thanks so much for your support:)