Your Device Is A Snitch

In addition to pervasive government surveillance there is also pervasive corporate surveillance. Corporate surveillance isn’t as concerning since corporations rarely murder the people they’re surveilling but it’s also more sinister because most of the people being surveilled unwittingly agreed to be. Mobile phones are a great example of this. A lot of people, including myself, find mobile phones incredibly useful. They allow you to communicate with friends and family in almost any location, provide remote Internet connectivity, can navigate you to your destination, etc. But the side effect of the technology allows your cellular provider to know your location. In addition to that many apps use location services provide by your phone’s operating system and hardware to pinpoint your location and report it to the developers.

Another reason corporate surveillance is sinister is because the State usually has access to the collected data either through secret agreements or warrants. Your devices may report to the developer on what you’re doing and the State may then gain access to the data to prosecute you. An example of this is a recent story of a woman who filed a rape claim that was proven to be false by data collected from her Fitbit:

In March, a Florida woman traveled to Lancaster, Pennsylvania where she stayed at her boss’s home, reports ABC 27. On a Tuesday, police were called to the home where they found overturned furniture, a knife and a bottle of vodka, according to Lancaster Online. Jeannine Risley told police she’d been sleeping and that she was woken up around midnight and sexually assaulted by a “man in his 30s, wearing boots.” However, Risley was wearing her Fitbit band at the time. She initially said that the Fitbit had been lost in the struggle, but police found it in a hallway and when they downloaded its activity, the device became a witness against her.

According to ABC 27, Risley handed the username and password for her Fitbit account over to police. What they found contradicted her account of what happened that night. Via Lancaster Online:

[A] Fitbit device Risley was wearing told a different story, the affidavit shows.

The device, which monitors a person’s activity and sleep, showed Risley was awake and walking around at the time she claimed she was sleeping.

In this case one could argue that the surveillance lead to a good outcome since it busted the wearer for making a false rape accusation. But surveillance has no morality. This could very well be used to prosecute somebody who was arrested of a drug crime. For example, heart rate data from a Fitbit could be used as evidence that somebody had taken a particular drug at a certain time. It could also be used, as it was in this case, to prove the person wasn’t asleep at the time they were accused to taking drugs.

I’m not going to tell you not to use these devices. They do provide a lot of desirable functionality for many people. However, they also provide some potentially negative side effects that users should be aware of. If you use these devices just make sure you understand the ramifications.