Pervasive Computing: A Double-Edged Sword

Human attention is precious. In addition, it is limited. Technology allows more devices come and be part of our everyday life. These devices tend to work only after a human command. It takes our time and attention. On some point, we have to make our devices work by themselves or else our time will be spent by only to manage those gadgets. The point of pervasive computing is to let our devices communicate with each other and work in the background, with as little human commands as possible.

Everyday people access services regardless of what their privacy default settings, as they trust the service providers. Privacy protection can only work if it the user understands the information lifecycle in each entity in the entire pervasive ubiquitous system. This understanding requires the service provider to give a detailed explanation on how their system use and share the user data within the system. This is tedious. People tend to ignore it and take the service for granted.

Privacy is very old and complicated issue, as people have their own standard of how they perceive privacy. It seems that until now there is no permanent way that is applicable to every system. Having the image of computers all around us and continuously sensing our presence and the environment can make us think about our privacy as human being.

Before the technology is here, at 1991 Weiser have predicted that the main issue it will face is concerning privacy,

“Perhaps key among [the social issues that embodied virtually will engender] is privacy: hundreds of computers in every room, all capable of sensing people near them and linked by high-speed networks, have the potential to make totalitarianism up to now seem like sheerest anarchy”

In order to grasp the concept of how technology can be privacy-friendly, we have to understand what can be considered an intrusion of privacy. There are four types of privacy violations according to Gary T. Marx, Professor Emeritus in MIT on 2001. They are

  • natural,
  • social,
  • spatial-temporal, and
  • ephemeral effect border violations.

Natural border violations consist of breach to the physical limitation such as opening an undisclosed sealed letter or doors. Social border violation centered on how certain act is performed as the expected social role, such as a stranger role must be differentiated from friend or family. Spatial-temporal border violation is happening if someone wanted to prevent meeting certain person but it happened anyway. Ephemeral effect border is focused on something we want to forget and keep it from reappearing.

Privacy is needed to protect independence in decision making and provides individual a space to experiment and explore choices and values. This is important in finding the right balance between society expectations and our own. We hold information about to maintain different kind of attitude suitable for different audiences in society.

There are important aspects to be considered if we talk about privacy and technology. They are what data are collected, who has access to them, how long the data can be accessed and how accurate the data is represented. Service providers have to deal with data according to what kind of the data it is. The level of data sharing of someone’s favorite movies and medical records must be far different.

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