Friday, 8 June 2018

The Internet Of Things We Might Not Want

I've just listened to a Radio 4 programme where a panel discussed how to tighten up online security as people attach more and more 'things' to the internet such as their kettle, toothbrush, toaster and fridge/freezer.

Not once did anyone ask why. WHY? Why would any human being wish to connect their kettle, toothbrush, toaster or fridge/freezer to the internet?

I have just asked the internet this question and found a site with various explanations for five year olds, all enthusing how 'exciting' and 'useful' it will be to have all our objects smartified so that they can talk to us/each other and save us time and trouble.
  • Your toothbrush will be able to tell you when you've spent the full two minutes cleaning your teeth (er, mine has already has a 2-minute buzzer)
  • Your toaster will be able to tell you when your toast is ready (mine pops)
  • Your kettle will be able to tell you when the kettle has boiled (way ahead of you there - mine clicks off!)
  • Your fridge/freezer will be able to tell you you're out of orange juice and order the supermarket to deliver some more (just the one carton? How inefficient. And what if I fancy apple or mango juice instead?)
Even devices controlling our central heating are hardly necessary when we have timers to do that. Smart meters for utilities are equally redundant when most of us already switch things off when we're not using them for cost reasons and they haven't been shown to result in smaller (or more comprehensible) bills. Plus more reliance on devices rather than common sense does not, ironically, make bills smaller or us greener.

Nor does our garage door need its own internet connectivity or account in my view.

The one such application I can see that might be useful is tracking devices for pets to prevent them from getting lost or stolen. However pets are sentient beings, not inanimate household objects.

A friend bought a fertility thermometer and found she was meant to connect it to an app and enter all her (and her partner's) most intimate details into it. She was not impressed. Why could the information SHE needed not be incorporated into the thermometer in a simple daily readout of Fertile Today or Not Fertile Today? That's all she wanted. What would they do with all the data she supplied to their website? She had not agreed to be part of any mass research trial regarding fertility (or whatever their motives were). She could soon contact them to complain if the thermometer failed.

We have already witnessed seemingly innocuous geneaology sites, ostensibly to help people trace their family tree, turning into sinister DNA databases amassing samples worthy of any criminal database, and with the ability to sell them on for all kinds of purposes such as medical, travel and other insurance, prospective employee screening etc.

Meantime my phone remains unconnected to my bank account and I will not be letting Alexa into my life any time soon.

Every internet contact is a security breach risk and everything sold to us as 'convenience' could (and doubtless will) be used for a whole lot more without our consent, to one day control us in ways we cannot currently dream of.

Moreover is it wise to start letting devices and apps do more and more of our basic thinking for us? How dumb do we want to become? Completely-reliant-on-technology-for-everything-dumb?  I have always resisted a SatNav, precisely because I don't want to lose my map reading skills, which by and large, perform just as well and have never led my vehicle down a harbour slipway or any of the other reported mishaps ascribed to SatNavs.

In fact I've started turning my wifi off every night as it is not just security risks which are assuming more and more concern, but the potential damage that constant bombardment of Electro-Magnetic Fields (EMF's) may be doing in close proximity to our natural bodily EMF. The jury may still be out as we have not been under artificial EMF bombardment long enough to find out the long term effects. However it has always been recommended to keep mobile phones at least an inch away from the body and how many people do even that? I often recall a cousin who acquired a terminal brain tumour within a year of acquiring his first mobile phone twenty years ago. Of course it could have been a co-incidence, but he was noticeably in love with this gizmo (still a novelty at the time when whole offices shared one mobile for going out and about) and had it clamped to his ear a lot of the time and within a year he was dead at 37.

A Silicon Valley insider shares his experiences of EMFs here.

When I was around 20 and internet cafes started springing up because few people then had home access, I remember the internet being sold to us as something which would help us and give us lots of extra consumer choice. It would be a useful tool in our lives.

Not once were we warned that the internet might one day take over, closing our banks, post offices, ticket offices and shops and removing all other consumer choices from us including (eventually) the ability to pay in cash or by cheque. That one day Silicon Valley would rule the world and even encourage social isolation. Or that many of its designers were nerds who desired to minimise the need for human contact in their own lives and were designing the same for the rest of us aka the 'contactless' world. Consent for this to happen was neither asked or given and there was no political referendum on it either.

For all the undoubted advantages of the internet, I feel we've been mis-sold it and it should have been kept at 'useful tool' stage. Certainly every update on my computer seems to lead to it being less user-friendly rather than more and I suspect most updates are not for my benefit at all.


1 comment:

Dan said...

You wanna wait till Virtual Reality takes off. Frankie Goes To Hollywood once asked 'are we living in a land where SEX and HORROR are the NEW GODS.

I agree wirh you about Cortana, Siri, Alexa, Echo... we are inviting spies into our houses and eliminating spontenaiety... everything decided for us, externally formed demographics.

It is scary how pernicious this boundary-less medium has become, and Google have to remind rhemselves...

DON'T BE EVIL.

Gah! Hope tou are over the loss off Ginger lovely.