Increasing Data Collection

As wireless computing functions are increasingly embedded, for example, FitBit for our wrists and smart meters for our homes, data collection can originate from every electronic device in our environment.  Each one collects or infers some information about the humans that interact with that device. 

Visions of future computing environments involve integrating tiny microelectronic processors and sensors into everyday objects in order to make them “smart”.  Smart things can explore their environment, communicate with other smart things, and interact with humans, therefore helping users to cope with their tasks in new, intuitive ways.  However, this digitization of our everyday lives will not only allow computers to better “understand” our actions and goals, but also allow others to inspect and search such electronic records, potentially creating a comprehensive surveillance network of unprecedented scale (Langheinrich, 2005).

This is a unique challenge for privacy because the design purpose of ubiquitous computing is to embed seamlessly in to the environment, be it home or office (Beckwith, 2003; Halperin, Kohno, Heydt-Benjamin, Fu, & Maisel, 2008; Hong & Landay, 2004).  Control over PI or PHI is much harder to maintain, for the data subject and the organization, when we move away from desktops and traditional data centers (Acquisti et al., n.d.).  While the legislation is still architected for an environment where computers and computing are standout and stand-alone activities.  This figure hints at the increasing number of devices to come across industries.

Estimated Number of Internet Ready Devices (Intel, 2009)

This work hypothesizes that, in such an environment, computers can be used to solve the ‘problem’ of privacy just as easily as they contributed to it.  The use of computation technologies makes everything easier and faster; we can use these exact same tools that are threats of privacy to make privacy itself easier and faster.