Artificial intelligence is heralded as the solution to many problems, from managing massive amounts of data to curing cancer and keeping us safe.
Like any tool, AI can be used for good as well as evil. Concerns about human vs. machine wars aside, AI poses a threat to our security and privacy if left in the wrong hands. However, we are interested in the aid computers can provide on the side of right: protecting our privacy.
Privacy has long been traded in exchange for security and convenience. When we fly, we give up a lot of privacy to keep our airports safe. Each time you use your smartphone, you give up privacy for the ease of GPS and the fun of sharing photos. Such uses seem harmless. But as our digital devices become more a part of daily life, it’s becoming harder to escape — even when you want to.
For example, even if you don’t use social media, your photo is there. People are taking pictures with you in the background as they selfie at a baseball game or snap a pic of their kid doing something funny. The legal system ruled years ago that you don’t have an expectation of privacy against these types of photos if you’re out in public.
In the past, who cared? Your photobomb might appear in someone’s vacation scrapbook or end up in a box with hundreds of other prints later lost to time. But life has changed. Facebook users upload 350 million photos every day. Today your image has the potential to reach millions of eyes. Not only that, but someone could easily track you down using that image and other online information.
What if you could keep your photo off the internet? One fascinating AI project is called Do Not Capture. Think the Do Not Call Registry, but updated for today’s problems. (Do people still have landlines?) This program uses AI to recognize your face. If you are registered in the database, it will blur your photo anywhere it appears online. That means the side of your face in the crowd or that embarrassing photo of you taken in Las Vegas won’t be tied to you (and your reputation).2. Voice Searches
Alexa and Google Home are always listening. While humans aren’t sitting around listening to those searches, the data can be accessed later. This access came up not long ago in a murder case during which police requested Amazon Echo recordings of a home where someone was killed. But what if AI could remove you from any recordings, using a DMCA protection to bleep your voice or wipe it completely?Other Electronic Stalking
Other forms of AI are always watching and listening, too. Your Samsung Smart TV is keeping track of what you watch. Internet browsers are tracking your searches. (Even incognito won’t completely protect your privacy.) When you enter a store, it may have a beacon. Beacons do not steal your data and can’t really do much (for now) but broadcast a signal. However, customers who opt in should be aware that stores use these devices to send you push notifications and track your movements throughout the store.
Since GPS was made available to the public in the ‘80s, we’ve been coming up with nifty uses. Today you probably don’t think twice about asking an app for directions. However, by owning a smartphone, you are allowing yourself to be found. Nearly every app out there uses location data, whether you realize it or not. When you call 911, you’re grateful for this fact. However, these changes have made it nearly impossible to stay hidden by choice. AI might have answers, offering ways to cloak your location or make it appear as though you are elsewhere. Hence AI and data privacy need to go hand in hand.Data, Data, and More Data
The amount of data about our behavior we send is only increasing. According to Business Insider, fewer than 10,000 households can produce as many as 150 million data points a day due to our IoT devices.
Sometimes the data we share help protect us, such as financial information studied by computers to prevent identity theft and money laundering. Using computers to review this data means humans aren’t studying it, which is a win for privacy. But as you can see, there are many situations in which this data might prove useful to those who would use it against us.
There’s an irony in using technology to solve the problems it created. This game of whack-a-mole probably has no end. But there is no path backward. Instead, we must work through these challenges as they arise. And we, for one, hope to help hold the hammer.
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