When Convenience Redefines Privacy

August 17th, 2017 | PRPL

When Convenience Redefines Privacy

At the birth of technology came skepticism — then came appreciation. Technological advances have always had to wiggle themselves into the hearts of those they existed to serve. Then once we become acclimated with them, they can’t be pried from our hands. This cyclical trend of rejection, acceptance, appreciation, then obsession has long been instituted in the history of technology and innovation.

A History of Hesitance

We know that new things make people hesitant. In fact, many of the inventions that we take for granted today once scared previous generations senseless. Trains? People strongly defended the idea that human bodies couldn’t possibly move at 30 mph. Telephones? Quite literally the devil’s instrument, leading to deafness, insanity, or simply making people lazy gossipers. Hesitance to technology actually goes as far back as the art of writing, when Socrates famously warned against it, claiming it would make the young forgetful. Plato ironically wrote his thoughts on the subject for him.

These worries seem silly to us today because we know that these inventions make our lives easier and present no real threat, but two centuries ago — like most technology — they changed the world as our ancestors knew it.

The Privacy Problem

In the 21st century, we’ve gotten a little more realistic when choosing things to worry about, and privacy is one of them. We value security and safety when it comes to our information, therefore we don’t initially like to jump onboard with things that could infringe on our privacy. Without understanding the intentions of new technology and where exactly our information is going, we may be anxious to sign up for it.

But at the intersection of ease and convenience, we often set aside our privacy concerns for the usefulness something offers. After all, imagine life without it.

Say Cheese

When cell phone cameras first graced us with their existence in 2002, the public was in fear for their safety, privacy, and the repercussions for those that violated either. Every other news special was analyzing the downfalls of camera phones and their lack of legislative support. Getting caught on camera at a place you shouldn’t be, having to shield your child so they wouldn’t get photographed in public, or using photos to cheat on school tests seemed like inevitable problems at the time. God forbid someone gets a shot of your bad side.

Fast-forward 15 years and those same people couldn’t imagine their lives without holding the newest smartphone in their hands, now with capabilities to do more than just take pictures. In fact, cameras seem to be the main hardware feature that phone companies are constantly trying to improve and upsell on the latest device.

So what happened? The advancement to high quality photo, video, and everything in between has become second nature to us, not only holding snapshots of our favorite times in life but of impactful events too. We now realize it can actually improve our safety by creating undisputable evidence that tells the whole story in questionable times. With the convenience of a phone camera, we find it easy to overlook feelings of insecurity and doubt, and often find safety in the lens instead.

Scared With It, Lost Without It

Even though location tracking has been around since the 1960’s — when submarines would wait hours to be found by satellites in space — it was exclusively used by the military. Once the new tech was installed in cars in the early-2000s, and six years later in cell phones, users began to worry about their devices’ ability to pinpoint their exact locations and just who was getting those signals. Being dubbed a ‘Surveillance Nation’ after the implementation of databases, cell phone cameras, and then tracking devices, we all kind of got the feeling we were being microchipped and followed. But this fear soon became a luxury.

Global Positioning Systems (GPS) offered the ability to easily navigate foreign places and saved a lot of headaches and awkward trips to the gas station to pick up a map or ask a stranger for directions. We are now very thankful for the ‘invasive technology’ in many missing persons cases, through which lives have been saved thanks to pings in nearby cell phone towers. Similarly, tech companies introduced GPS wearables to the healthcare industry in 2008 with trackable bracelets that helped locate people with conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease and autism who had wandered off.

If technology has been able to help us find our way when we need it most, and has even saved lives, it doesn’t seem as important to worry about potential spying. Since Google, Apple, and other companies promise stringent rules when it comes to access of private information, we’re no longer as fearful about getting followed home any time soon.

From Villain to Superhero

Wearables like these have become more than a trend in product design. They’re a way of life. Companies continue to focus on the convenience that keeps winning us over and making our lives a little easier. When the Fitbit, a wearable designed to track health and fitness goals, was introduced to market in 2011, it was described as a “privacy nightmare.” It’s now being used to solve crimes and connect patients with their doctors for preventative checks.

As health-related wearables continue to flood the market, devices like the 2Net, a device that shares biometric data with your healthcare provider, can potentially save lives on a massive scale. Imagine a device like it is used for every patient a doctor has in their system. The doctor would have the ability to monitor things like oxygen levels, heart rates, brain activity, blood pressure, and so on from the convenience of their phones. If the doctor notices a patient with low levels, they can request an appointment. If they are dangerously low, they can request emergency services and possibly catch the problem before it becomes life-threatening.

Once devices begin to make users goals come to life, we care less about the constant tracking and more about the convenience and efficiency that it brings to us.

Digital World, Real Risks

If something seems too good (or fun) to be true, it probably is. We’re talking about your favorite Snapchat filter — you know, the one with dog ears. As augmented reality grows exponentially year-to-year, facial recognition worries have started to pick up ground in products like Snapchat filters and now Apple’s rumored lock screen update.

AR’s capacity for constant recording of data and its ability to overlay digital components over our reality raises questions about privacy, free speech, discrimination, and cybersecurity.

A successful hack could trick users into thinking computer-generated objects are real, such as a fake road sign, or they could leak a user’s field of view to locate them. Not to mention the account access required to use these tools in the first place. I’m looking at you, Pokemon Go.

Of course, as AR continues to advance, solutions to some of these problems will be explored, as already seen with the inclusion of GPS receivers in AR wearables to help users detect objects, speed, and motion. Nevertheless, leave it to us humans to still be skeptical about something we’ve already accepted into our daily lives.

You’re Gonna Use It and You’re Gonna Like It

While it may be alarming to think that a device knows all of your personal details, right down to your REM sleep patterns, it’s also inherently useful.

We are in a digital age that is putting the world’s needs first-in-line for innovation.

At the end of the day, inventions are meant to make life easier, and many times that requires them being ingrained into our personal lives. It’s normal to feel hesitant towards change, and technology is no different. As always, though, we can trust that we’ll eventually appreciate the ease and benefits that go along with using the next big thing. We’ve already been able to witness this shift with camera phones, Google Glass, GPS wearables, Google Knowledge, face recognition, and so on — transforming privacy concerns into feelings of gratitude.

Stick around long enough and you will forget anyone was ever worried to begin with.

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