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We are the disrobots

by Ian Glazer  |  October 21, 2010  |  1 Comment

Our technology and our society have reached a point where our privacy can be automatically impinged. We have fully automated disrobing ourselves. We have created the disrobot – a machine or process which automates the stripping away of the veil of privacy.

Consider the apps on your smartphone or social networking platform of choice. There are too many incidents to name in which app developers have acted badly. And it isn’t the app developers that are the only potential bad actors. The behavior of the platforms on which these apps run is suspect as well. The recent work by the Wall Street Journal on how app developers, either knowingly or not, have been leaking Facebook identifiers to advertising networks because of the way the Facebook Platform handles referrers is quite telling. But social network platforms aren’t the only ones – considering how communications providers have been using their platforms to infringe on customer’s privacy either through enabling eavesdropping or disclosure of location.

Disrobots don’t just exist in the internet and its infrastructure. Millimeter wave scanners at airports are disrobots; they come as close to disrobing you as the TSA can get without doing something like this.

But wait it gets worse – we are becoming disrobots as well. When you check-in to a location and mention someone else is with you – you are a disrobot. The apps that you so dearly love could very likely be disrobing your friends.  Our government is doing this as well. The story of Michael Roberts, the ExpressJet pilot who refused to submit to a millimeter wave scan and will likely be fired is a prime example of the government-as-disrobot. As Kraftwerk sang:

Ja tvoi sluga
Ja tvoi Rabotnik robotnik
– Kraftwerk – We are the Robots

One of the reasons that disrobots are so prevalent is that they have evolved faster than our social norms. If you do not respect information I’ve shared with you, I can seek redress from you and even go so far as to sever our relationship. But society doesn’t have a recognized set of norms in the case that an app you’ve installed doesn’t respect information I’ve shared with you. (Furthermore, I would be hard pressed to single out your app as the bad actor, but that’s another story for a different day.) Consider the feeling you get when someone tags you in a photo – is that different from the feeling you get when someone identifies you at location via a Foursquare or Facebook check-in?

The reality is the disrobots are here to stay. A combination of social norms and technology will be needed to keep them in their place. But unfortunately, in the name of profits and false hope of zero risk and total security, I see norms and technology being encouraged to help disrobots, not limit their behavior.

Cue German dystopian cinema…


Category: privacy  

Tags: apps  dystopia  facebook  foursquare  kraftwerk  nudie-scanners  privacy  tsa  

Ian Glazer
Research Vice President and Agenda Manager
4 years at Gartner
16 years IT industry

Ian Glazer is a research vice president and agenda manager on the Identity and Privacy Strategies team. He leads IdPS' coverage for authorization and privacy. Topics within these two main areas include externalized authorization management, XACML, federated authorization, privacy by design, and privacy programs. Read Full Bio

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