Hello, Big Brother: Digital Sensors Are Watching Us

Lecturer Ryan Calo is quoted by USA Today in the following story on the prevalence of digital sensors and concerns over possible increases in their usage:

Odds are you will be monitored today — many times over.

Surveillance cameras at airports, subways, banks and other public venues are not the only devices tracking you. Inexpensive, ever-watchful digital sensors are now ubiquitous.

They are in laptop webcams, video-game motion sensors, smartphone cameras, utility meters, passports and employee ID cards. Step out your front door and you could be captured in a high-resolution photograph taken from the air or street by Google or Microsoft, as they update their respective mapping services. Drive down a city thoroughfare, cross a toll bridge, or park at certain shopping malls and your license plate will be recorded and time-stamped.


Ryan Calo, director of the Consumer Privacy Project at the Stanford (University) Center for Internet and Society, can imagine an escalation of troubling scenarios. Advertisers could customize pitches in sneakier ways. Or worse, data correlated from multiple sensors could be used to deny you a job, cut you off from insurance coverage or lower your credit status.

"You will constantly feel under observation," Calo says. "You'll never have those crucial moments of freedom from the feeling of scrutiny."


You could be supplying bad guys with useful intelligence by posting on social networks or photo-sharing sites smartphone images showing children playing on the lawn or expensive vehicles or valuable household items, says Jonathan Mayer, a research fellow at the Stanford Center. "There's so little transparency in what's going on," Mayer says. "We should be concerned about things like accidental social oversharing, purposeful but unwanted social sharing, government overreaching and security breaches."