PRI­VACY TAKES A BACK SEAT

Big Brother’s power grows ev­ery time you add a gad­get

The Weekend Australian - - COMMENTARY - GLENDA KORPORAAL

For Christ­mas my 26-year-old daugh­ter gave me some white Tiles — square plas­tic cards you can put on your key chain and con­nect with your phone. You press the tile and your phone rings. Or what­ever ob­ject you have synched it to such as a wal­let, purse or pass­port.

I put one on my key chain and an­other in my purse and for­got about it be­fore go­ing to New Zealand on hol­i­days with a girl­friend.

“I saw where you went, Mum,” my daugh­ter said proudly when I got back.

I was a bit taken aback at the thought.

She had helped me set the Tiles and help­fully sug­gested she should also synch it with her phone. But she had also been able to use it to fol­low where I was go­ing around New Zealand.

It was not ex­actly a Thelma and Louise shoot-the-lights-out va­ca­tion with a friend. For­tu­nately or un­for­tu­nately, we didn’t have any­thing to hide.

But it was still dis­con­cert­ing to think my daugh­ter was qui­etly fol­low­ing me as I moved from mo­bile phone tower to mo­bile phone tower across the North Is­land.

“So you could fol­low me wher­ever I went?” I asked.

“Not ex­actly. But it just showed the last places you had been,” she an­swered, as if that ex­plained it­self. Hmmm ... At the an­nual Con­sumer Elec­tron­ics Show in Las Vegas this week, there was much spec­u­la­tion about The Next Big Things in tech.

But as our res­i­dent fam­ily tech ex­pert pointed out over Christ­mas lunch, the thing about tech­nol­ogy these days is that we are adopt­ing new things without re­ally think­ing about it.

It is not so much The Next Big Thing, he ar­gued, but more an evo­lu­tion of goods and gad­gets and our dig­i­tally con­nected lives that will keep hap­pen­ing al­most seam­lessly, such as my self-track­ing Tiles.

I would doubt whether the av­er­age per­son re­ally knows what the In­ter­net of Things means.

But be­fore too long many of us will have Google Home or Alexas or sim­i­lar ver­sions in our lounge rooms or kitchens.

Of course, our res­i­dent fam­ily tech ex­pert did bring an Alexa to Christ­mas din­ner and we kept throw­ing ques­tions at it (her?).

You had to ask it the right ques­tions the right way but we quickly got used to it.

I could see that it would not be a big jump to have an Alexa-type “as­sis­tant” around the home to start telling it what to do and how to or­der the shop­ping. Or tell a home ro­bot what to do.

But I also had a sneak­ing sus­pi­cion that a de­vice could also start spy­ing on you in your home — or at least be pro­grammed to do so.

Did I want Alexa over­hear­ing ev­ery­thing I might say at home?

Alexa-type mon­i­tors are al- ready be­ing used in the US for home se­cu­rity. (The lat­est New Yorker fea­tures an ad for a white ver­ti­cal slim­line Sim­pliSafe, which de­scribes it­self as “a com­plete se­cu­rity ar­se­nal. With mo­tion sen­sors, glass-break sen­sors, en­try sen­sors and a high-def­i­ni­tion se­cu­rity cam­era” at­tached to a pro­fes­sional mon­i­tor­ing ser­vice.)

My tech-savvy fam­ily mem­ber’s point was made clearly when I came back into Syd­ney air­port and went through im­mi­gra­tion without talking to any­one, just look­ing at the cam­eras.

The use of fa­cial recog­ni­tion tech­nol­ogy is trans­form­ing im­mi­gra­tion queues. But as it takes our pho­tos, we don’t even think about the tech­nol­ogy and se­cu­rity is­sues it raises.

Gov­ern­ment arms such as im­mi­gra­tion and po­lice around the world are em­brac­ing fa­cial recog­ni­tion but they don’t want to brag about it.

It was also driven home on a pre­vi­ous over­seas trip with a girl­friend who lost her pass­port.

The high com­mis­sion in the coun­try we were in was in­sis­tent that we got her new photo done at a spe­cially des­ig­nated photo shop.

When we asked how long it would take for my friend to get a tem­po­rary pass­port we were told that it would de­pend whether the pow­ers in Can­berra would be able to use fa­cial recog­ni­tion tech­niques to check that she re­ally was who she said she was. (She was).

Fa­cial recog­ni­tion is one of the next big things in our daily lives.

China is now one of the tech lead­ers of the world. Credit card com­pa­nies such as HSBC are us­ing fa­cial recog­ni­tion to al­low peo­ple to val­i­date their pay­ment cards.

I was in China a few months ago in a su­per­mar­ket set up by Alibaba. At the self-ser­vice check­out, shop­pers would en­ter the goods they were buy­ing on a screen and then smile at the cam­era for the bill to be charged to their credit card (or more likely their WeChat ac­count).

More dis­con­cert­ingly, for­eign jour­nal­ists are now be­ing tar­geted in China us­ing fa­cial recog­ni­tion. I spoke to one jour­nal­ist in China who had at­tended a demon­stra­tion in Bei­jing. She was soon ap­proached by po­lice who knew her name and oc­cu­pa­tion and be­gan ques­tion­ing what she was do­ing.

When I raised this with our tech-savvy fam­ily mem­ber he told me lo­cal po­lice were al­ready look­ing at its po­ten­tial.

Let’s say you have a known pae­dophile. Fa­cial recog­ni­tion tech­nol­ogy could be used to check if they had come too close to a school.

But more broadly, it’s not hard to see fa­cial recog­ni­tion tech­niques be­ing widely used by au­thor­i­ties to check out who is in a crowd and track crim­i­nals and per­sons of in­ter­est. Big Brother is al­ready with us.

I am old enough to re­mem­ber the fierce de­bate about the Aus­tralia Card, which was re­jected be­cause of its po­ten­tial in­va­sion of pri­vacy.

But, in our tech-savvy world, de­bates about pri­vacy have be­come a side is­sue as your friends and fam­ily in­sist on post­ing pic­tures of them­selves and you at your home on Face­book, cheer­fully tag­ging what you are do­ing and what your house looks like to their armies of fol­low­ers around the world.

That said, Face­book and so­cial me­dia mar­ket­ing is set to be­come one of the next big oc­cu­pa­tional sec­tors for the next gen­er­a­tion of work­ers.

Now, where are my keys again?

JONATHAN NG

Cricket fans pass un­der fa­cial recog­ni­tion cam­eras at the SCG dur­ing the fifth Ashes Test be­tween Aus­tralia and Eng­land

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