I’ve spent a considerable amount of my personal and professional time mocking conspiracy theorists, but it is true that as we open our homes and our wallets to electronic devices, we are also opening up our lives to surveillance. So if you plan on doing something risky, read the list below. Then then check out your ISP’s terms of service, wrap your phone in tinfoil, and call a cab (leave your wallet at home).
- Mall Watchers: Like mall walkers, mall watchers aren’t so much evil as they are annoying. A firm called Path Intelligence isn’t tracking YOU, it’s tracking your particular cell phone — everything else is anonymous. Except for the country you live in. Because such data is helpful to mall owners and marketers who want to see where that cell phone travels inside their buildings. And we love to help them out, right?
- Web Stalkers: Already vilified in England and under investigation in Canada, these programs track your web surfing habits (again, not you, just anonymous data) and sell ads based on that data. And now the evils of deep-packet inspection have landed stateside, with Charter offering tracking to subscribers as an “enhanced service.”
- Location-Based Services/Advertising: Ever issued the little white lie to your boss or significant other, like saying you’re home sick when you’re waiting in line for tickets to the latest “Indiana Jones” flick? Thanks to the combination of location-based services delivered via cell phone and social networks, you may find yourself caught or at least having to prepare a bit before you tell your tale.
- Automotive black boxes: These services, which began with On-Star, are now so advanced they can track whether or not you (or someone with your ID chip) are driving the car. The boxes are not only outfitted with GPS chips that can be used to track where you are if the car gets in an accident, but contain hardware to disable a car in case of a theft. The boxes are tied to police systems, which means it’s easy enough for governments to track the car at any time. I wonder how long route data is stored.
- Digital IDs: And for those of you who walk to work, don’t own a cell phone and refuse broadband service, there’s still your driver’s license or work-issued identity card, which can contain a chip that holds the key to your identity and can broadcast your data to anyone with the equipment to read it.