Will privacy matter in a ubiquitous computing future?

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This insight piece was penned by our co-founder Dylan McKee, and first written for Newcastle University’s Open Lab.

With the Ubicomp future quickly becoming today’s reality, and countless new wearables and IoT devices – along with 3rd party software products to make use of the data from these devices – entering the market every day, privacy matters more than ever, as Gudymenko & Borcea-Pfitzmann make the case for in this paper from Dresden University of Technology.

In the ubicomp age, privacy is generally agreed to mean the sharing of personal data – a service that is private does not share data beyond itself (and does not use data you store within it for any other purpose than providing you with a service), whereas a service that has no regard for privacy will happily share data with other 3rd parties, and use the data stored by you within it for purposes other than what you initially signed up for, such as advertising and predicting your actives when you have not asked it to – as this is what is defined by the Electronic Privacy Information Centre.

The depth of data that is now increasingly more personal, and can potentially include health related data such as blood sugar level readings and drug infusion statistics. This kind of hyper personal medical-record-level data is proving to be extremely attractive to advertising companies, as this Fastcompany article provokes, because it details conditions for which products that users simply cannot live without, or that could significantly improve their quality of life, exist and can be targeted towards users with a real need. Of course, advertisers can take this too far and use this level of data intrusively to merely ‘capitalise’ on a person’s medical condition, rather than acting in their morally best interests.

However, on the privacy conserving side, one of the key emerging arguments for maintaining privacy in commercial Ubicomp products and platforms is the competitive advantage that privacy provides over competing platforms where the ‘user is the product’, as I found out from this Economist article. This is a far more attractive form of Ubicomp future, and I know I for one would be willing to pay for privacy of my personal data gathered by devices that I have allowed to be incorporated into my life.

To conclude, it is evident that as we begin to live in the Ubicomp future more and more, allowing Internet of Things into our lifestyle and our home lives, privacy is becoming a highly contentious issue and something that we must all be aware of. Whilst some organisations seem willing to exploit data and ignore privacy in a morally dubious manner, many seem morally on track and have a genuine intention to deliver services that respect privacy, often as their ‘competitive advantage’ over the services that do not.


Dylan McKee
Dylan McKee
Dylan McKee is the co-founder & CEO of Nebula Labs. He's a passionate technologist, excited app developer, and enthusiastic tea drinker. Dylan has a vast experience of mobile app development, developing his first iOS app - myAltitude - at the age of 13, which went on to achieve over 1 million downloads worldwide. Since then, Dylan has worked on countless apps over multiple mobile and web platforms for a variety of clients ranging from solo entrepreneurs and venture-backed startups to established SMEs and local government organisations. Dylan studied Computer Science BSc at Newcastle University, and is also an alumni of the Ignite Accelerator Programme, completing their Summer 2014 programme and working with many of their portfolio companies on mobile apps.

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