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We’ve reached the point where the internet doesn’t work properly unless we give up our privacy. Everything from your Twitter account to your cell phone wants your personal information, your GPS location, and more.
To most of us, how companies store and use our information is largely a mystery. It gets stolen on a regular basis, and yet we willingly give it up because the alternative is being locked out of useful cloud services and social networks.
If internet privacy is already an illusion in the present day, what will things be like in the future?
The Internet of Things could put your whole life online
The answer really depends on how the internet evolves in the future. One trend that’s expected to change the landscape is the increase in non-computer-like devices using the internet to connect to each other and to cloud services.
The Internet of Things (IoT) is expected to bring everything from washing machines to medical implants online. One advantage of these smart objects is that we’ll be able to control them remotely – you can probably already set your DVR to record a show from your phone. Soon you’ll be able to control everything in your house the same way.
But smart objects like these rely on sending information about your activities to service providers. Once the majority of your devices are online, your whole life could be too.
The age of Big Data
Personal data collected by companies like Facebook and Google, as well as many others, has already led to the creation of massive and structured databases about customers’ habits. This ‘big data’ is already being used to influence how customers are targeted and how products are designed.
The amount of data in the world is growing at an incredible pace – 90% of the world’s data has been created in the past two years. In 2012, 2.5 exabytes (2.5 billion GB) of data was generated every day according to IBM.
The majority of this data is about us, and what we do online. With data growing at this rate, imagine how much there’ll be in ten years!
Pigeonholed by behavior patterns
One significant way companies are already using Big Data is to find patterns in our behavior. These patterns are used to predict our future behavior, make assumptions about who we are, and sell to us more effectively.
The New York Times has reported that retailers and lenders are already using data on past purchases to predict which customers are likely to make repayments on time. One Canadian retailer found that customers who bought premium birdseed were very likely to make payments on time. Customers who bought skull-shaped car accessories were more likely to miss payments.
All customers who fit the latter pattern were rejected for store credit – even if they were new applicants who had not missed payments in the past.
Predicting the future
The trend is that we are sharing more data about ourselves, through more devices. The Internet of Things will increase that further. And methods for organizing and analyzing Big Data are evolving too.
With so much data about our habits available to them, internet companies could soon know more about us than we know about ourselves – including what we’ll do next.