Cyber Security: Share and Scare Alike
There was a story last month about an online fitness tracker revealing the exercise routes of users around the world. The app, Strava, published heatmaps logged from over one trillion data points from its 27 million users (!) as they ran, cycled or swam. These mind-blowing numbers sounds like pretty interesting viewing – you could see where people nearby liked to go and then either join or avoid them as you pleased, adapt the same old route or discover a new one you’d never have thought of.
However, the data landed Strava in quite a bit of hot water, because unfortunately they also revealed things that should’ve been kept hidden. For example, the exercise routes of military personnel around the world, including US bases in Syria and Afghanistan. Oops.
This immediately raises a dilemma: who’s to blame for the security breach? Should Strava have never published such a wide-spanning data set, even though it was anonymous and easy to opt-out of (the Pentagon and GCHQ have no footprint on the heatmap).
Should the soldiers have turned the apps off, even though they have a real need for it given the training and exercise their jobs require, and purchased it with the same rights as every other customer (presumably without ever reading a disclaimer saying that Strava will post your whereabouts for all to see). The answer’s probably a combination of the two, but it’s a grey area.
Being connected has so much to offer that simply going offline would put troops at a great disadvantage, which means that nowadays impenetrable cyber security is as important to the military as bulletproof armour.
Army bases in Syria may be an extreme example with a markedly tangible threat, but the dilemma in the story affects everyone with a smart device. In the age of “The Internet of Things”, it’s very easy to be critical and paranoid of companies gathering data on you, while at the same time buying more and more connected products – because they just make life so much easier.
From cars to boilers, new designs seem compelled to have an online element in the interest of streamlining the UX. Go offline and you’ll be left behind, whether you’re a seller or a consumer. And so what if your hot water usage is sold to a third party? It’s just a tiny fragment of your life. Only it’s not just your morning showers, it’s also your breakfast choice, route to work, browsing history, lunch, hours at the gym, favourite television, etc. All these fragments add up to a pretty detailed digital profile.
The bottom line, though, is that most of us don’t care that much. Sure, we may be annoyed or irritated that being tracked has become such an accepted part of our daily lives, but not enough to do much about it. We still use the internet, still get a smart boiler because it’ll give you slightly cheaper rates, and still buy wearable technology that’s primary function is to monitor your location and physical state because how did I ever live without that?!
It seems to be fairly inevitable, particularly judging by the younger generations’ attitudes. Trying to find the cultural meaning of internet memes is a slippery slope, but there’s one that sums this up quite nicely: teenagers singing goodnight to the FBI agents supposedly watching through the cameras in their laptops or phones. If you want your Siris and your Alexas, you better accept what your getting yourself into!
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