Balancing our privacy against the benefits of data monitoring and tracking is a question that has become increasingly important in today’s IT environment. With the growing use and creation of “smart” technology, be it a smart phone, a smart house, or smart clothing, IT companies are inserting themselves more and more into our personal lives. This is not to say that this is a bad thing, in many cases it is not. Having apps that can track our heart rate, or insulin levels, etc. can have significantly positive, if not life-saving, influences on our day-to-day lives. However, in all of these instances where technology is becoming a part of our lives, it is being welcomed. An issue arises when companies use their technology to discreetly gather information about us that we otherwise would not have known they can access. A very recent example of this is a secret microphone that was found on Google’s Nest product. For those who are not familiar, the Nest is a smart home thermostat capable of learning your preferences and being controlled remotely online through an application. There is no reason for a microphone to be a part of this product, at least not one that doesn’t provides the user with some increased capability. This opens many questions as to why the microphone was there, why Google did not disclose that the microphone was a part of the product, and what information could Google – and did Google – gather from having this microphone in the homes of millions.
It is my opinion that in the end, this smart technology is better for the progress of society than the bad that comes with it. However, as a society we have to cautious about the access we give companies to our lives and to not set any unfortunate precedents legally under the belief that we “have nothing to hide”. Overall, we should welcome smart technology as a medium through which to simplify our complex lives, but be very careful about when the trade-off between simplicity and privacy becomes too much. Additionally, because of how much companies have to gain by obtaining unfettered access into our lives, we should meet all of these requests for access with skepticism and thorough review. This would be to avoid situations similar to the microphone in the Nest, as well as any other future intrusions into our lives.