Whether we like it or not, Big Brother is the new reality

Governments have always snooped and spied to prevents threats, it is just that nowadays they use technology rather than send out a detective.
Security cameras, such as these in Fujairah, are a facet of modern life. Christopher Pike / The National
Security cameras, such as these in Fujairah, are a facet of modern life. Christopher Pike / The National

It can be somewhat uncomfortable knowing that every security camera you walk past is analysing your face to identify who you are, how old you are, where you work and what car you drive, among other bits of personal information.

But it is a price many are willing to pay if their governments provide them with a safe and crime-free environment in which to live. Governments have always snooped and spied to prevents threats, it is just that nowadays they use technology rather than send out a detective in a camel-coloured overcoat to hide out in a car parked a few yards away from a target’s house.

It becomes questionable and uncomfortable for many when this same technology is used commercially to make a profit from your habits and choices.

While the ripples of the US’ national security agency’s (NSA) surveillance programme Prism are still being felt, most people fail to see that the applications and services they use every day are just as intrusive, if not more so.

Many mobile applications request unnecessary access to various data stored on your device, from your camera, pictures, phone calls, messages, emails and accounts. On some phones you can choose to limit the permissions, on others, particularly phones running Google’s Android operating system, you cannot, giving the app developer access to all of this information.

Essentially this is no different to what the NSA is able to do. By giving app developers permission to access your camera – they will have the ability to switch it on remotely. Giving them access to your messages enables them to send and read your private messages, giving them access to your photo albums means they will be able to view every single one of your pictures and so forth. Alarm bells should be ringing if the permissions being requested have no relevance to the app in question.

The reason so many applications want as much access to data is because it is valuable. It can be mined and analysed and eventually sold as market research to third parties interested in knowing your preferences and habits so they can better target you with adverts.

Video surveillance technology along with analytics software is now being used by retailers for similar market research purposes by monitoring customer shopping habits and choices.

Essentially we are becoming products. Every single one of our choices and even movements will be monitored, analysed and commercialised in some way to help corporations make money.

To some, it may feel like a gross invasion of privacy. To others, it becomes a convenient way to consume products and services without the need to waste time shopping around.

Whatever your take, it is already happening.

thamid@thenational.ae

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Published: December 16, 2014 04:00 AM

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