Smartphones, smart cars, and various smart devices are increasingly becoming a part of our daily lives
Smart desks and smart walls are coming to offices, and many people rely on digital assistants to take care of certain tasks. The logical endpoint of the smart revolution is increasingly becoming clear: Soon smart spaces will become a regular part of the office and public spaces. But what does this future look like? What can we expect, and what sort of relationship will individuals have with this future? How can privacy be safeguarded in such an environment?
The Smart Office
The first smart space many people will encounter will likely be the smart office. Work is increasingly being done on digital devices, and cloud operations enable new means of collaboration. Since workers already share most of what they work with, incorporating company-wide digital assistants has the potential to provide a more seamless experience. A large, digital wall designed for collaboration, for example, can provide a powerful centerpiece to an office. Privacy concerns remain; employees will want to avoid mingling their personal lives with their private lives, but this concern isn’t new. Still, it will be up to employees and perhaps unions to ensure an individual’s right to privacy remains intact, a task that can become more challenging as more employees find themselves constantly connected to the office.
Airports can rely on facial recognition technology tied with other smart technologies to detect potential security risks. Smart features can lead to better convenience as well; smart technology combined with artificial intelligence can provide useful metrics on airport crowds, which can be used to ease the process of traveling through airports. Airports and other high-risk security areas aren’t the only space that can benefit from this enhanced security; sports stadiums, for example, might be able to provide a safer experience with smart technology. These technologies, however, can easily encroach on an individual’s privacy by attaching activities in these spaces with a name and other identifying information. People might be willing to trade in some privacy for easier check-ins, but having information stored indefinitely might cause concerns.
Smart Technologies in Public Spaces
One potential scenario that concerns many is smart billboards. An individual billboard can only target a small percentage of people who view it. By tailoring the ads on a billboard to an individual who is detected passing by, however, their efficiency can increase significantly. Although governments are increasingly regulating online advertising, smart billboards and similar technologies are largely off the radar, and it’s unclear how existing laws will affect these technologies. Surely, many argue, the public ought to have a say in these issues, but are either opt-in or opt-out options ethically sound?
Adoption Through Incentives
Perhaps the most likely means of arriving at smart technologies is through incentives. Toll roads, for example, offer incentives to drivers who use beacons and other devices to automatically charge an account when passing sensors. These users often receive discounts for traveling during less congested times, and these discounts are rarely available to those who pay with money. The trade-off for this discount is allowing some degree of tracking, and individuals rarely have a say in determining how this information is used. Advertising is often the first items discussed when it comes to smart technology and privacy, but cities are also at the forefront of collecting this technology. Government agencies and legal entities are likely to take a look at these issues in the future. Is it legal or ethical to only provide financial benefits to those willing to sacrifice some privacy?
A Privacy Roadmap
The ubiquity of the internet means users will want some sort of privacy safeguards in place and a means of discovering what information is stored about them and how the information is being used. The recently implemented General Data Protection Regulation in the EU serves as a foundation, as its regulations will protect individuals in smart environments. However, users who don’t want their information stored have the option of avoiding websites that track information, but smart spaces won’t be as easy to avoid. Facial recognition, in particular, can never be a fully opt-in technology, as a system needs to recognize a face in order to know whether the person has opted in or not. Issues will rise to the forefront as new technologies come online. It will be up to individuals and privacy organizations to ensure people have a voice in the conversation.
Smart spaces provide a number of conveniences. They can help prevent and solve crime, and they can make working in the office a more seamless experience. However, individuals will have to decide whether these technologies are a threat to privacy, and the public at large will need to exercise its collective power to put pressure on companies and governments to ensure data is handled responsibly.