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‘Our society is at the cusp of a ‘perfect storm’ of network connectivity.’

As an ex-retail, product design and market research kid product analytics are the perfect storm.  Continuing the relationship post point of sale, scraping data back from the user, provisioning informed service data and impacting future product development. The potential is obvious. However right here, inspired by the cynical legal kids I’ve spent (really) too much time with this week I am touching upon the privacy implications of gossipy things.

The discussion came about as a result of a debate about the ‘half-life’ of legislation. Like most things, the pace of technological developments and the huge disconnect between legal systems and the developers in the technological fields means legislation inevitably lags behind.

Consider the IP implications of 3D printing. For a paper I wrote early 2010 I found that UK IP law around patents, ID rights… are laws that were developed in an era where 3D printing, copying, replication… was unheard of. As such there are a surprising number of loop holes in the law that can be exploited. Obviously given the pace of technological development the half life of legislation is becoming ever shorter, as such many are dated.

Thus when we consider the pace of development in technology such as the Internet of Things we find laws (data protection, privacy and otherwise) that are currently inefficient. Why do I speak about privacy? Given our ever greater fascination with data, as seen with open data movements and a growing interest in product analytics we are opening ever greater parts of our lives to data collection.

As I write this, Last.fm is scrobbling what I am listening to, indicates the music listening service and device I am using, while the photos I have just uploaded to flickr indicate my location complete with a time stamp. You can track my route, how fast and how far I ran this morning with my gym app… with minimal effort you can guess where I am, perhaps who I am with, and what I am doing.

These data are data I choose to share, am conscious of sharing, I turn it off when I need to. It is an opt in service. What happens however when we give everyday products a similar ability to ‘gossip’ about us? Right now, no one knows what I’ve eaten today (I don’t use clubcard-Tesco), how many cups of tea I have consumed, who has visited… but this information is likely to be valuable to harvest in the not so distant future. Do we have any reason to worry?

The unanticipated consequences of ever greater data collection are something that we should really consider before we reach the point of having to deal with the consequences, but we don’t work like that do we? The day we should worry about ‘connected things’ reading my typing cadence and eye trace… is already here.

I won’t make this a legal analysis, it isn’t my field after all and perhaps regulation isn’t the way forward but if we choose a regulatory approach the first point to consider is that of the definitions (privacy, personal, harm…) that current directives and legislation are built upon which it is suggested by (McCullagh, Sclove and others) are insufficient. In this data rich society our perceptions of what is personal and private are changing.

Most importantly however, personal or private activity prior to the emergence of ubiquitious connected things was safe from view; now, we don’t know who is watching or listening. We need to be aware of what we share, the implications of sharing and how we can cease to share. It is important for me at least to be able to control my private sphere.

Data Protection Directive
EC Data Protection

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