60°F
weather icon Clear

Thomas Knapp on privacy: J. Edgar’s not the Hoover you need to worry about

Is your vacuum cleaner spying on you? Hamza Shaban of the Washington Post reports that iRobot, maker of the “autonomous” Roomba vacuum, may eventually sell the internal maps of your home the device builds to facilitate its work to the makers of other “smart home” devices.

In the latest phase of our frenzied technological advancement, it’s clear that yes, our gadgets do collect and use more and more information about us, and that that information progressively ramifies across more, bigger, and more integrated networks.

The bigger question: Is it worth it?

The answer: It depends.

Benjamin Franklin cautioned us against “giv[ing] up essential liberty, to purchase a little temporary safety.” If he lived today, I think he’d be fascinated by the Internet of Things — and that in updating the quote above to describe it, he’d likely substitute “privacy” and “convenience” for “liberty” and “safety.”

I’m not going to try to tell you not to buy an autonomous vacuum or smart thermostat or Amazon Alexa voice-activated device (I have a couple of those myself). They can be incredibly useful. They can make our lives better in significant ways.

But when weighing the associated costs, don’t forget to account for the risks inherent in sharing your information. Who’s gathering it? What will be done with it? Where will it end up, intentionally or otherwise? The commercial applications, however annoying and intrusive they might become, aren’t the half of it.

One not terribly far-out, if somewhat dystopian, prediction:

As autonomous vacuums and similar map-reliant devices become the norm (and as they get cheaper, that will happen), governments will become major customers for the information they gather. The obvious application for that data is law enforcement (for example, being able to call up the floor plan of a house when planning a search or raid).

But you should also expect that your county assessor will use that information when calculating square footage for your tax bill, and don’t be surprised if city planning and zoning bureaucrats come knocking to talk about that addition you built without a permit.

And then, of course, there’s the criminal element (but I repeat myself). The same people who stole your credit card number at the gas pump last year may acquire and use this type of information to case your house for prospective burglary next year.

Watch yourself. And never forget that your stuff is watching you too.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter:@thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north-central Florida.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
THE LATEST
Letters to the Editor

Out-of-town reader supportive of Pahrump after reading local news

Letters to the Editor

Many double standards prevail in political circles

TIM BURKE: First Amendment rights in danger on major social media platforms

Freedom of expression is one of our most cherished rights. Over the weekend, the conservative social media platform, Parler, headquartered in Henderson, Nevada, was shut down when Amazon turned off the web services that hosted the platform.

DAN SCHINHOFEN: Open Letter to Nevada House Delegation

To the honorable Representatives of our State. I am taking a moment to write and plead with you to act in the best interest of America rather than your political party. I heard Speaker Pelosi say, on 60 minutes, that one reason to impeach President Trump was so that he could never run again. While your Party has been talking about election interference since 2016 and spent 40 million dollars of our money to investigate “Russian Collusion”, no collusion was found.

Letters to the Editor

Resident disputes timing of trash disposal rate increase

DEBRA J. SAUNDERS: How to start a civil war

President Donald Trump’s supporters didn’t think through what would have happened if they’d succeeded in overturning the legitimate 2020 election.

VICTOR JOECKS: Vaccinate seniors before prisoners

Gov. Steve Sisolak shouldn’t vaccinate felons before senior citizens. Even a casual look at the coronavirus death numbers makes this obvious.

Letters to the Editor

Reader states mural not good use of taxpayer money