Internet Privacy Issue 54
Currently I am in our Wellington studio and what I like
about coming to New Zealand is the arrangement
Australia has with the Kiwis regarding entry into the
country. If you haven’t had the opportunity yet, let
me enlighten you, it can be as simple as getting on
the bus in the morning if you possess one of the new
Australian passports with a microchip in it.
The chip technology allows the passport holder to
skip the queues and questions and proceed to the
‘passport ATM’. Your passport is inserted into the
machine that produces a ticket, which is then inserted
into a slot at a turnstile. After staring at a camera for
60 seconds, assuming you are not a drug trafficker
or fruit smuggler, you’re through and in the land of
the long white cloud drinking Pinot Noir and dining on
fush en chups.
Welcome to the new world where
governments and commercial
organisations recognise that
making it easy for business
people to commute between
countries leads to econonomic growth.
It’s a wise choice; after all, we do make choices on
where we do business and have fun based on ease
Since I am neither a fruit smuggler, or drug
trafficker; in fact not very interesting in any remote
way at all, this is excellent news for me because it
makes a schlep across the Tasman a snap. In fact
since the buses in Sydney have gone to a prepaid
system, going to New Zealand has about the same
complication level and this is why you will hear me
singing the praises of the new technologies that
make life easier.
This experience led me to think we were very clever
down here in the Antipodes, making travel between
countries so simple, but then I discovered that some
very unexpected places are far more advanced when
it comes to using new technologies. Leon is one of
Leon, one of the largest cities in Mexico with a
population of more than a million, has recently
installed iris scanners for the whole city.
If you are lucky enough to live there you could
forget about keys for the house, work or your car,
you would also not be required to produce ID to fill
prescriptions or have a medical record pulled. All of
this would be done using your eyeballs.
That’s right, your eyes.
Iris scanning technology is
far more accurate that other
biometrics, such as finger
prints or voice and can capture
thousands of points of data with
a single scan.
Past iterations of the technology required the scanee
to stand still until the information was captured, but
now new scanners are able to scan up to 50 people
per minute from several feet away. In fact, the
scanner can read the information from your iris when
you are running!
Jeff Carter the CDO of the biometric R&D firm Global
Rainmakers Inc., the company rolling out the iris
scanning technology, believes that within 10 years
every person, place and thing on this planet will be
connected to the iris system.
That’s good news for most of us; it will eliminate
some of life’s annoying aspects like trying to find your
swipe card every morning. Unfortunately, for those who have something to hidelike my son Charles, it may not be so promising.
Don’t get the wrong idea; he’s done nothing wrong
beyond a few unfortunate incidents a few years back
with cans of spray paint.
It’s just in a year’s time he will be applying for
universities and after that for jobs and the people in
the position of reviewing his many fine achievements
may not consider semi naked photos on Facebook
to be one of them.
For the Chuckster and his cohort,
having your iris scanned would make it impossible to
disassociate with your past and turn over a new leaf.
They will be forever connected to who they are, and
that may not be who they hope to be. Some believe
this generation will be the first to make legal name
In Leon they don’t care about this loss of privacy,
scanning devices are currently shipping to the city
and will be positioned in law enforcement facilities,
security check-points, police stations, and detention
areas, making it the most secure city in the world.
The next phase of installations will place scanners
in mass transit, medical centres and banks, among
other public and private locations.
The database of irises being created will
automatically contain known criminals, but the other
good citizens of Leon will have the option to opt-in to
the scheme. If you do choose to participate you can
catch a bus or train without a travel pass, or take
money out of the ATM without hiding your secret pin
with your hand.
Best of all for the city of Leon, where fraud is a $50
billion dollar problem, they might finally be able to get
a handle on crime.
With the introduction of any new technology comes
fear and distrust. One fear that pops into most
people’s minds when discussing iris scanning is
whether the scanners can read dead peoples eyeballs
and NO they cannot, so forget all of that Minority
Fortunately most of us take a healthy approach to the
adoption of technology and don’t bother ourselves
with such concerns; however, as we learned in our
Deep Dive Research Forum #04 there is a theory
about the adoption of technology developed by Ryan
The theory states that at the end of the day,
even when we have all of the pieces in place and
understand the apparent pros and cons of a new
technology, we still adopt it at our own personal
It goes on to describe that for technology to be
adopted there first needs to be a specific invention,
obviously something new like an iris scanner.
Next there needs to be a process of interpersonal
communication that makes people aware of the
invention, such as me telling you about iris scanning
in a newsletter. Finally, there needs to be a specific
kind of social system that makes it attractive, for
example a fear of Mexicans sneaking into the US,
which is why iris scanning has been introduced at
border patrol stations in Texas.
One would think the typical Texan would be more
concerned that without their friends from down South
they would need to do their own housework and learn
to operate their lawn mower, but then again this is
Texas the state that wanted to succeed from the
nation. Let ‘em go I say.
It might surprise you to know
that most of our habits are
already being tracked thanks to
the friendly internet sites we visit
Perhaps like me you feel there is safety by staying
clear of those bastions of fanciful youth: Facebook,
YouTube or MySpace. Unfortunately, one of the
biggest culprit sites for installing tracking devices on
your computer is dictionary.com. You can’t get more
mainstream and boring than that.
Spying on internet users is one of the fastest growing
New companies pop up daily
whose sole purpose is to track
your movements on the internet
and then sell that information to
A whole ecosystem has developed of internet spies
and online advertising companies, who want to know
what you are doing online. In the last 18 months
‘data markets’ have developed where this information
is sold at auction, like the stock exchange.
Some of these businesses
sell up to 50 million pieces of
information a day for a fraction
of a penny.
While it may seem somewhat mundane, knowing that
you are in the market to buy something big like a
car, house or boat is useful information to an online
ad company trying to flog cars, boats and houses.
Most computer geeks know how this is done, but for
the rest of us the simple explanation is that these
companies install tracking devices on our computers
when we visit a website like dictionary.com.
The most common tracking device is a Cookie; this
is a text file stored on your computer that assigns a
unique ID number allowing advertisers to know who
Other tracking devices like Flash Cookies are stored
by your flash video player when you watch flash
animations. Finally there are Beacons, these are
invisible bits of software code that track your online
behaviour that are installed and run live when you are
on a web page.
All of these spying vehicles transmit information about
you back to online advertisers.They do not know your
name, but know plenty of other useful information:
your age, home town, favourite movies or that you
By simply browsing the top 50 websites on the
internet you may have up to 3000 of these tracking
devices installed on your computer; some are quite
benign, in fact useful to you as a web browser, others
Consequently, the concept of privacy, at least online,
is an illusion. People are beginning to figure this out
which is why companies like Facebook are in the
dog house for being sneaky and making their privacy
settings too confusing for normal folk to comprehend
In the dog house next to them is Google for
identifying open WiFi networks in the various locations
they were mapping. This is great for back packers
wanting to keep in touch and really bad for the private
individuals whose open networks were publicised.
Most unsecured networks are in cafes and are that
way by intention, others are that way because their
users don’t know any better and have no idea their
data is at risk. Unfortunately a lot of us fall into the
‘others’ category, we haven’t a clue about setting up
our WiFi let alone our Facebook privacy settings.
More frightening breeches of
security come from search engines
like Spokeo, who make your
photo, salary and home address
For the tech savvy it is possible to protect yourself
by being careful about what you publish online and
understanding the settings area of the tools and
services you use. For the rest of us, we wouldn’t have
a clue and would have to call Mike or some teenager
to properly set up our privacy settings. Therefore,
the safest way to ensure you are not caught with
your digital pants down is to assume everything you
put online will come out and most likely that will not
happen when, or to whom, you want it to.
All of this talk reminds me of what Eric Schmidt the
CEO of Google once said:
“If you don’t want someone to know
what you are doing, you probably
shouldn’t be doing it”.
I would have to say I am with Eric on this one.
In addition I find it hard to comprehend any
government or private business, having the time or
patience to monitor what people do on the internet
everyday. Heck it’s challenging enough to get rich
people to pay their taxes and P platers to stick to the
speed limit. Surely there are bigger fish to fry and
this is why I am all for bringing on the iris scanners,
get me an RFID tag, tattoo a bar code on my head;
do whatever you have to do to make my life easier
because like most of you, I barely have time to
We recently completed a property strategy for an
organisation who was concerned with security and
safety, but they also had a key business objective of
needing to break down the barriers between them
and their customers and advocates. We advised that
to achieve this, physical and virtual barriers had to be
removed and that would require the adoption of new
attitudes toward security in both the environment and
support IT systems.
I wish I knew about the iris scanners in Leon when I
made that recommendation, because for them it was
difficult to imagine a workplace without turnstiles,
security cameras and ID tags.
It might be a tough pill to swallow, but for those
that can choke it down, the opportunities to create
workspaces that really are open, transparent and
engage with the broader community are more
possible now than ever and it is pretty exciting.
Not every company wants this, but in this time of
greater accountability, honesty and connection to
customers and community the ones that aspire to
this and are prepared to be courageous, could leap
frog over their competition and make a statement
that would set them well and truly apart.
It’s pretty exciting to think about the possibilities and
I suppose that if that means that there are a few
George Orwell flashbacks that is the price we would
have to pay.
There is a bit of irony in the fact that we need new
technology to simplify our lives that were simple, but
have become overcomplicated by technology.
Angwin, Julia, Stealing, MySpace – The Battle to Control the Most
Popular Websites in America, Random House, 2009
Carr, Austin, Homeland Security Department Begins Using Iris
Scanners to Track Illegal Immigrants, Fast Company, September
Carr, Austin, Iris Scanners Create the Most Secure City in the
World, Welcome, Big Brother, Fast Company, August 2010
Chapman, Glenn, Hackers Pick Up Where Facebook Privacy
Leaves Off, The Age, August 1, 2010
Kravets, David, Google Wi-Fi Spy Lawsuits Heads to Silicon Valley,
Wired, August 20, 2010
Nosowitz, Dan, Facebook Adds Login Protection Security
Features, Fast Company, May 13, 2010
Trapani, Gina, Online Privacy: Check Yourself (Before You Wreck
Yourself), Fast Company, May 16, 2010
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