Should we share our data up front or wait until it's a matter of life and death? Soon we will have to decide.
The people who make the Hugo seeing eye thing sent me a replacement. It's like a hi-rez video baby montior with but for everything.
The first one wouldn't connect to my home wireless so I mailed it back.
They asked for my router name and password and I handed it over. They programmed it to a new Hugo and shipped it off to me.
This one wouldn't connect either. Not by QR code, not by typing, not by wasting time on the Alexa app and online forums…
Anyone would think they didn't really want my data and a video of everything that goes on in my apartment.
Anyway, they were very sorry and said nothing like this has even happened before. A third one is on its way. The next one had better know my name right out of the box or its going straight in the recycling container and then off to the incinerator.
It's easy to give away your data. And it's getting easier.
A few days later, it came out in the news that Google had put a microphone in its Nest Guard, the keypad and motion sensor part of its alarm system, and forgot to mention it in the specs. They were thinking maybe they're activate it with a software upgrade, sometime in the future.
Google lamely copped:
"The Google Assistant on Nest Guard is an opt-in feature, and as the feature becomes available to our users, they'll receive an email with instructions on how to enable the feature and turn on the microphone in the Nest app," Google said. "Nest Guard does have one on-device microphone that is not enabled by default."
The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, which presides over American consumer privacy and technology, wants someone from Google to come in before March 29 and explain what they were up to.
There are already microphones in smart speakers, laptops and phones. If you opt in they will listen for key words and try and help you. Amazon and friends swear they aren't recording everything before the key word.
It's easy to speculate and form one-man conspiracies alone at one's computer (usually with the help of Google search) so I was pleased to talk to local entrepreneur and smart cities expert Wilf Pinfold recently. He gave me specifics about data collection and privacy, based on observations of reality.
We were at the Greater Portland Tech Challenge and he was reflecting on the pitches he had seen that day.
Pinfold's company urban.systems wants to build the data back end for whole cities, so they can share previously siloed data, such as traffic, weather, water pressure in pipes, bus and train times, air quality, and so on. Devices, on lampost, on cars and on our wrists are constantly generating data. But when should we give it up?
Measles as a Service
"We are aware we don't want certain data collected," Pinfold says. "An obvious one is health data. We don't want insurance companies to have ideas about us that could lose us our insurance. Some people don't go to the doctor because they're worried they'll be diagnosed with something that will lose them their health insurance."
Pinfold has a smart watch and a bathroom scale both made by Withings. They pair and share.
"I have all the data, every day, my weight, my steps, how I slept etc. I'm not sharing that with anybody. But the fact that I have it would allow me under certain medical conditions to tell the doctors certain things that might save my life. So as long as I have privacy, I'm going to collect all that information. I'm not collecting it for a clear purpose, but it may have enormous impact."
It's the same with capturing movement information. "Your phone's capable of all that now."
He says such data should be cataloged in a private data store in a way that lets you personally remember things.
For example, the measles outbreak in Vancouver and Portland. Phones know where we've been. Our health data could include our vaccinations and be stored on a Fitbit or phone.
"If there was analytics that can cut across that and identify a high risk, (doctors could say) 'We need to get this person, he may be a carrier if he hasn't had a shot.' You may be willing to share that if there's an outbreak." Pinfold says people don't want someone else tracking that data all the time, but they would opt in to share in the case of an emergency.
And this ties back into the tech challenge.
"It's the same with transit. If TriMet had a new line, you could share source-destination data. They'd could say 'We'll factor that in when we plan the route.' And they might motivate you, take 20 percent off all your TriMet trips."
Suddenly you'd be a helpful person without trying all that hard.
"Now I'm a participant. But I wouldn't be willing to collect it if they were the ones who knew it and I didn't."
He says at urban.systems they are building that kinds of security into the platform, and working with the people at Jeff Gauss's Oregon Blockchain Venture Studio to make it unbreachable.
"If we get that right, it starts to facilitate the idea that each of us is a citizen and we come to the table empowered with our own data. But we're always being asked and we always know when our data is being used."
Transportation is key
Pinfold praised how the smart city thinking has matured from a year ago, when the subject was strictly transportation. Last year at the challenge everyone was trying to do a HOP pass or an individual service. However, the city is a bundle of different services that come and go over time. His company, urban.systems, aims to build the digital infrastructure for smart cities. It wants to interlink the different types of software, so that a Bird Scooter or a Lyft car automatically show up on Google maps without you having to download. the Byrd or Lyft app. The same could be true of information about education, from finding your way around campus to something as sensitive as your grades.
For example, OHSU is trying to reduce the number of people who drive in single occupant cars up to the hill.
"There's no silver bullet. (What about) people who come with their car and need their car at lunch to pick up their kid? They can come on the MAX if you give them a car that they can take out at lunchtime. That's a much more sophisticated way of thinking about the problem than 'Oh we're going to give them a car share app.'"
He wants to see the pieces come together. Like Bird scooters and Lime scooters clustered where they are needed, such as when a crowd exits a Blazers game or a Nike event.
"If we're really going to give people convenience in shared transit it's much more complicated than a rideshare app, it's all these other things, about how people live their lives and what they need to do during the day for transportation…When we're sharing we have to be much cleverer about making sure all those little things you need to do get done in the day, that I can find transport to do that."
All this would require us — and local government — to opt into a matrix of information, a hyperconnected Internet of Things.
The question is whom do you trust?
Could a lawyer one day subpoena your entire audio record going back to 2014, the year of Alexa? Could a government agency demand to know what non-specific obscenities you uttered in traffic in 2020?
Hugo, what do you think of that?
Reporter, The Business Tribune
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