A Tailor that Customizes Your Life…And Tracks it, too.

The Internet of Things (IoT) is a game-changer for society today.  Never before had we been able to collect vast amount of data from people and their actions.  Before going more into depth about the issues and implications of IoT, we must first understand what data is.  To be honest, I thought that it was just numbers that relate to item usage and sales.  It is much more than that; it is the lifeblood that makes drives the IoT.  Data is numbers, but it is a way to quantify everything you do, from the amount of sugar and cream you put into your morning coffee to your Google search queries.  

So what is significant about this?  I argue that this enables you to have a personal tailor, one that customizes the world around you.  With this tailor, you will not only have clothes that fit you properly, but coffee made just the way you like it.  It is possible to have a refrigerator that sends a shopping list to your phone when your fridge is starting to look empty, or even a bed that automatically adjusts to your body.  It might not be robots cleaning your house our ovens that bake cookies when the kids come home, but it is a start.  What I find hard to believe is how companies are able to collect all of this data so subtly (sometimes).  These sensors are omnipresent, hidden in our phones and software, yet we feel as if they are not present.  

This level of customization and optimization is not limited to the individual.  For instance, manufacturing companies have a lot to gain from this.  The amount of raw materials wasted and used will decrease; errors in production will be minimized or even gone.  Let’s scale this up to cities.  From your phone’s Internet connection, you can know about a traffic jam even before seeing one.  Potentially, even traffic jams will be nonexistent with the level of optimization that the IoT can bring.  

It might sound all great, but there is a caveat to having this personal tailor: it constantly follows you around, measuring you and your every action.  A great quote was brought up in class that goes something on the lines of “scares of privacy loss will be forgotten as we indulge in the pleasures of convenience.”  Have you ever visited a website, and suddenly you saw ads that you actually like?  For me, I always see ones about watches because that is what I have been trying to shop for.  And those are the watches that I would actually buy.  It seems cool, but it actually shows that Google or some other data aggregation company is tracking your every search and action, using all that data to gain a profit.  And companies are not the only entities indulging in the data cake.  Governments are trying, or have already, taken a large slice out of this data cake to keep track of its people.  

With all this data mining, it raises the question: is there truly anything that we can hide?  And in regards to the data collected, who is keeping it secure, and how secure is it?  Individually, one person’s data about their shopping habits is somewhat worthless, but to an online retailer, this is what differentiates between a sale and a bust.   Multiply this by millions of people, and you got a multibillion dollar industry underway.  Data is the diamonds of the IoT.  However, unlike diamonds, there are real people with real lives behind those numbers.  If the data is not secure, anyone can access this kind of information.  In class there was a discussion about how there was safety in numbers, arguing that because there is so much information, it is extremely difficult to trace you and that you are not important enough.  However, the issue is not that your information is buried among others; it is the fact that it is there and it is easy to access.  How much data is enough data, and how much are we investing into keeping it secure?

When I was younger, my parents made me not use a calculator when I was doing any arithmetic assignment.  They wanted me to learn how to add, subtract, multiply, divide, and know the formulas of basic shapes.  I was able to do mental math fairly quickly in my head.  However, when I started my junior year of high school, I started to become more dependent on my calculator.  A calculator ensures that all your answers are correct, but it does not promise that you understand how to calculate an integral.  The Internet of Things is just like a calculator, it promises to make life great, but makes us forget and not understand what makes life great in the first place.

PS.  Since we often talk about tech dystopias, I would suggest the TV series Black Mirror.  The topics they cover are not exactly happening, but with the rapid development of technology, the events that occur could happen.  Some episodes, especially the first one, can get dark and messed up pretty quickly, so choose which one wisely.  


  1. Jim Waldo

    October 7, 2017 @ 9:38 pm


    An interesting set of observations. I think I see a possible student in CS 105 (a course that Dean Smith and I designed and that I still teach) in the future.

    One question that connects with all of this is who really knows about you from all of that data? I have a colleague who always talks about what Google knows about him. But Google is a company, and not the kind of thing that knows. The servers at Google certainly send me ads based on the data that is in those servers, but I’m not sure that computers know things, either. And I’m pretty sure that there is no one at Google who cares enough about me to know anything from all this data (although I have many good friends who work there).

    This gets to one of the thorny issues in discussing privacy. Is the worry that there is enough data gathered about me that someone with access to that data could know all kinds of things about me, or is there only a worry when there is actually someone who does put all the data together to know things about me? I’m not sure I know the answer, but we will talk about this in a coming class…

  2. profsmith

    October 8, 2017 @ 5:59 pm


    It’s been interesting to watch the evolution of the IoT. As we saw in the reading, much of the early discussion focused on the technical challenges of smart devices that would require power, coordination, and replacement. Today, as we saw in class, much of the discussion is around the implications of collecting so much personal data. Thanks for your thoughts on this important topic!

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