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Awareness is expanding as “everything is being instrumented,” - what might this mean for your online privacy?

talking refrigerator

DOE Scientist Worried About How Much Big Data Reveals About UsSoon businesses and government will have access to vast amounts of data that could provide unprecedented detail about individual lives, a top DOE scientist said in Chicago Tuesday.

President Obama is expected to release Wednesday a much-anticipated White House review of privacy concerns involving big data. It comes at a moment when there is “an interesting interface” between technology, privacy, and civil rights, said Dimitri Kusnezov, chief scientist and director of the Office of Science and Policy for the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration.

“We want to instrument, for example, a resilient grid, where power is reliable, where you can understand vulnerabilities, where you can move around to utilize renewables, so you need great situational awareness,” Kusnezov told about 50 people gathered at the University of Chicago’s Harris School of Public Policy. “But as you get awareness of what’s going on, you get information on people. It’s hard to avoid that.”

Awareness is expanding as “everything is being instrumented,” Kusnezov said.

Take driving a car, for example:

In the next couple of years at the NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board) they’re starting to talk about vehicle safety—the ad hoc networks that cars will make as they talk to each other. So you’ll know, in a small circle of where you’re driving, all the data of the neighboring cars. You know, acceleration, steering, everything. So your car can make automatic decisions on how to avoid accidents. Sounds great! Your car will be smart enough to know if five cars away there’s a guy having a problem. Likewise if you have a problem people behind you will know, so you’re not caught up in litigation. Now they’re talking about collecting this, too.

Do you want people knowing all of your driving habits, in that detail: how you steer, how you accelerate, how you brake? Twenty different measurements or more in real time continuously. It’s a great safety thing, but how do we think about that?

Or sitting around the house:

Your refrigerator is telling a database in South Korea that you’re out of milk or you just had two beers. Your smart meter can tell when you opened your fridge or started your dryer or which room you’re in watching which TV….

You know, a simple thing like privacy in your home: you probably put stuff on the cloud, whether you know it or not, stuff is probably on the cloud. And if you do it at home, does the privacy that you believe you have by sitting alone in your home without any windows pass to the cloud, to where maybe your stuff is being stored overseas, or maybe in Virginia, or in Colorado. You don’t know where your stuff is. Do you have the same privacy expectations?

Much of this data is transactional, he said, meaning people exchange it. People may, for example, share data in order to be able to use an app. This raises questions about who owns the data and who has the right to access it.

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Stashed in: Privacy does not exist.

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It sure does seem like data does not like to stay private.

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