February 2016 – GLOBAL TECHNOLOGY – If one needed a reminder to dial into Best Behavior Mode while in public, consider the cautionary tale of a Miami doctor who became a viral sensation — and not in a good way — when she accosted an Uber driver. A five-minute cellphone video, which drew global media coverage, shows the 30-year-old having a tantrum and flinging papers out the passenger window. Viewers can also hear her ordering the driver to “get the f–k into the car, you disgusting piece of s–t.” The fourth-year neurology resident has gone on to publicly apologize for her behavior, adding that her story should serve as a lesson. “To be careful what you do in public,” Anjali Ramkissoon told Good Morning America. “Because the things we do can be taped and we can have to suffer severe ramifications for these things.”
Ramkissoon is hardly the first person to face the consequences of a public meltdown and she certainly won’t be the last. From telltale dash-cam footage to microphones mistakenly left open at meetings, from snarky Facebook postings to revealing Snapchat photos, our lives — the good and the bad, the tiresome and the exciting — are on display for anyone to see. We are watched in every which way, and many simply don’t care or are clueless about what to do about it. It’s scary. The death of privacy has been a long and agonizing one. Surveillance cameras, both public and private, monitor our every movement, which may have reduced crime rates but also has notched away at the concept of personal space. Cellphones reveal our locations, while both credit and loyalty cards track and analyze our habits and preferences.
Speaking of purchases, why is it that every time I’ve searched for a product online, ads touting similar items pop up everywhere? It’s creepy and alarming. If you’re still shrugging your shoulders and blaming my concern on paranoia, keep reading. A search engine for Internet-connected devices, Shodan, now allows users to browse through unsecured webcams, giving virtual Peeping Toms access to people’s private lives. We’re to blame for much of this, as convenience has trumped warnings from privacy advocates. After all, we love to post on Facebook and to set up trip alerts on our favorite budget travel website. (Or at least I do.) To find a nearby restaurant, we allow our phone to snoop on our whereabouts. What else did we expect would happen to all this information?
This kind of spying is just the beginning. Your phone calls are monitored. Your internet searched are logged. Mobile GPS locators on your cell phone track your movements 24/7. Surveillance drones routinely fly over U.S. cities virtually undetected. Security cameras overhead go through a second by second daily wash of driver’s license plates and faces. In our smart home of the future, practically every beloved gadget will collect details of our activities, details that will end up as data in a server used by a company for who knows what. Target marketing may not sound too offensive in a consumer society, but what happens if employers, insurance companies and others have access to personal habits, from when someone showers (and how often) to the kind of food she buys and keeps in her refrigerator. Last month, the Pew Research Center released a report on the state of privacy in America, a 2 1/2-year effort examining how we view both government and commercially motivated surveillance. Not surprisingly, Americans are divided. Some believe there should be more regulation on the retention of data, but others aren’t overly concerned.
Experts, on the other hand, predict that few of us will have the resources — or energy — to protect ourselves from the constant and omniscient snooping. Privacy protection will become a luxury good, one most will find unaffordable. And to think we used to (rightfully) worry about the NSA prying. Now Big Brother is living with us, a faithful and welcomed part of our growing family of gadgets. –The Desert Sun