In 2014, security guru Bruce Schneier said, “Surveillance is the business model of the Internet. We build systems that spy on people in exchange for services. Corporations call it marketing.” The abstract and novel nature of these services tends to obscure our true relationship to companies like Facebook or Google. As the old saying goes, if you don’t pay for a product, you are the product.
But what happens when the Internet stops being just “that fiddly thing with a mouse” and becomes “the real world”? Surveillance becomes the business model of everything, as more and more companies look to turn the world into a collection of data points.
If we truly understood the bargain we were making when we give up our data for free or discounted services, would we still sign on the dotted line (or agree to the Terms and Conditions)? Would we still accept constant monitoring of our driving habits in exchange for potential insurance breaks, or allow our energy consumption to be uploaded into the cloud in exchange for “smart data” about it?
Nowhere is our ignorance of the trade-offs greater, or the consequences more worrisome, than our madcap rush to connect every toaster, fridge, car, and medical device to the Internet.
Welcome to the Internet of Things, what Schneier calls “the World Size Web,” already growing around you as we speak, which creates such a complete picture of our lives that Dr. Richard Tynan of Privacy International calls them “doppelgängers”—mirror images of ourselves built on constantly updated data. These doppelgängers live in the cloud, where they can easily be interrogated by intelligence agencies. Nicholas Weaver, a security researcher at University of California, Berkeley, points out that “Under the FISA Amendments Act 702 (aka PRISM), the NSA can directly ask Google for any data collected on a valid foreign intelligence target through Google’s Nest service, including a Nest Cam.” And that’s just one, legal way of questioning your digital doppelgänger; we’ve all heard enough stories about hacked cloud storage to be wary of trusting our entire lives to it.