Is online privacy an illusion in the age of the Internet of Things?

3 Henry Kingston


Most people who use Google (and that is a large percentage of the world’s population) usually don’t notice when something has changed or a test has recently been implemented.  However, those working in the digital industry tend to jump on these things as soon as we see them, spending hours poring over what Google is trying to do next.

One such change was flagged last week when certain users who were signed into Gmail noticed that Google had been testing “recently bought” items in their SERPs.  Naturally, as soon as this information was made public users once again started debating whether Google had taken another step too far in terms of invasion of privacy.

However, is this just another way in which life is becoming more and more automated? Most people embrace the automation of day to day tasks including shopping as it saves them both time and money.  For instance, popular takeaway sites such as Domino’s and Just Eat now enable customers the ability to purchase their regular orders by clicking one simple button – isn’t this exactly the same thing but in a different format?

I think the issue here is the illusion of privacy. Most people believe that because they are using an App on their phone they are hidden away on their own, whereas Google’s SERPs are open to everyone.  We know for a fact that this isn’t true – the only reason Google was able to provide these “recently bought” suggestions was because users were logged into Gmail, thus placing them in a “private” versus a “public” space.

The illusion of privacy is a funny thing. Maybe because Google has been more open and progressive (and, admittedly, at times, creepier) than other companies people automatically assume that they are more likely to use their data for “evil” instead of “good”.  But in the age of the Internet of Things (IoT) this is what everybody does; in reality it’s just using data to provide automated information that will, hopefully, make your life easier.

Amazon has been using Big Data for years, yet people don’t equate their “suggested items” adverts with an invasion of privacy even though they are based on yours and millions of other users’ data.  Products such as Hive, Nest and Samsung SmartThings all depend on you giving them personal information in order to work – how else would they know that you are home unless they had access to your phone and your address?

I believe that online privacy may not be feasible or even wanted in a day and age where people can heat their homes, order dinner and buy the perfect gift in just a simple click.  People love new technology, they love that their lives are easier, so why do they shy away when companies such as Google try and do this too?

I like to call this “The Illusion of Choice”.  Give users the ability to believe that they are choosing to give their information away and they will be happy.  In a way Google is actually being less “evil” than their competitors by showing users’ that their data is being used, and when they have any questions, give them clear and concise information on what they are doing and why.

Of course, you do have a choice.  All you have to do is turn of your internet and order your dinner/record your favourite TV programme/buy presents the old fashioned way – but you don’t really want to choose that option do you?

Photo by Pixabay

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