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BIG BROTHER, GUARDIAN ANGEL

How much of our privacy can we sacrifice for our safety? How do we make sure that the technology we use to increase our safety is secure in itself?

 

Safety is the double-edged sword of the digital age: with technology, we can improve safety in untold new ways, but at the same time, technological advancements make us vulnerable like never before. The 2018 SHIFT Business Festival featured a panel discussion on the topic, with experts of cyber security – Päivi Brunou from Nixu, Lea Viljanen from Hackrfi, Matti Aksela from F-Secure and Donnie Werner from Ericsson PSIRT – talking about finding middle ground between opportunity, privacy and security.

 

Our understanding of security is in a state of continuous change, because whenever we find a new way to use technology, a new security issue also arises. Safety is a key component in building systems and services and needs to be considered throughout the process. With GDPR in Europe, this is no longer just the smart thing to do, it’s the only thing anyone can do. We have taken a considerable step in rethinking our approach to privacy and security in agreeing that openness and transparency are needed against threats of a digital nature.

 

Even with GDPR in place, however, regulations on the whole are still a long way from being up-to-date, and individuals must strive to stay educated. Making sure to use strong enough passwords is a good place to start, but now we also know that insidious algorithms can even affect our opinions. Not many scroll through their Facebook feed questioning everything they see. Quite the opposite: we often use social media when we want to tune out and not think too much. Still, social media has been around for a while, and we have started to get a hang of what it means for us to use it, paying attention to what we publish and becoming aware of how it can and does affect us.

 

The problem is bigger than that, more diverse and effectively everywhere. Beyond Facebook data leaks and false election results, prejudiced algorithms run behind the scenes in public institutions, making decisions that affect individual lives, and we have invited the internet of things into the physical spaces where we live and work. Taking everyday objects to a smarter level also puts questions of security in a whole new light. In social media, it is fairly easy to control what information you give out, but if you have a talking fridge that listens in on you day in and day out, it gets a little scary – especially when you don’t know who your fridge is reporting to.

 

Sound like tin foil hats? Our experts say otherwise. Let’s assume, for example, that you buy a new, alternative energy car. Based on the data the car gathers and sends, it is possible to determine how many people were in the car and where you drove, and it is even possible to listen to what is being said in the car, potentially obtaining private details about the people present. The doors can be locked remotely, lights turned on or off, or the engine killed. Tests have shown that such detailed data is accessible even to low level workers who have the access to the system the car uses to report back – and according to our panelist Donnie Werner, reporting back is required by the EU, for safety reasons. But how safe do you feel driving, knowing that you and your passengers may not be the only ones with eyes and ears inside the vehicle?

 

This showcases our mixed response towards giving out information about ourselves. We are cautious about the obvious cases, like using location-based services. After all, why should it be anyone’s business where we are at any given moment? However, we yield precisely this kind of information when driving, without a moment’s consideration. We put on activity bracelets recording when we sleep, eat and exercise, and we fill our homes with technology outfitted with cameras and sensors capable of knowing after only a few uses what our homes look like on the inside.

 

So how much of your privacy are you willing to sacrifice for ways to improve your day-to-day life? Are you aware of trading your privacy for something else? These are not always questions of right and wrong, but they are questions we should think over and attempt to answer, for ourselves. Technology can make our lives easier, and it is up to us to make sure that it also keeps us safe.

 

As with all things, there is a flipside, and the same things that give us goosebumps – that someone constantly watching us – can also be used to improve our safety. Business is being made from all this information to guarantee personal safety by companies like Guardian X, whose CEO Marc-Johann Kavantsaari spoke at SHIFT just before the panel discussion. Safety in the digital age has many faces, and we should strive to see them all.