The Connected Home, or "Hey, look! They use Becel!"
Everyone is concerned about their privacy on the Internet. I'm no exception. The more things you do on the 'net, the more pages you visit, the more information the companies have on you. Regardless of how much "personal information" you have on your computer (or even "how much/little you give out), "they" can always trace you by the unique IP address assigned to you by your ISP, and can track your viewing/browsing and buying habits.
Think I'm kidding? Think I'm nurturing conspiracy theories? Think again. I'm uncovering a conspiracy PERIOD!
Take a look at the status bar of your browser some time. Every once in a while, you'll probably notice the same few names pop up, names that are unrelated to the page you're viewing. Whenever you see "Akamai" and "Doubleclick", you can be sure you're being tracked. And those are just TWO of the obvious ones.
Why are they doing this? Simple. Every page you visit (including mine) is "categorized". Say, for example, you're thinking about buying a new car.... so, over a period of a week, you visit several auto dealerships'web sites, gathering info on the various makes/models of new cars. While you're doing this, the companies are watching you, noting that you're looking at car dealership sites, and cataloguing you. They then sell this information to various sources, and in a few days, you may notice a lot of unsolicited email (spam) in your mailbox, advertising "New Car Loans" from banks, "No-Upper-Limit" credit cards, and even deals on new/used cars!
This can be applied to everything else on the net. I am always looking for video games on eBay, and one of the systems I collect is the Sega Saturn. I was surfing at work one day, when I got a pop-up window from a UK game distributor advertising Saturn games. The next morning, I had several emails in my inbox advertising "cheap X-Box games", used video games, and even "full-version WAREZ downloads". See how it works?
The worst offender in the "spam" category would be porn sites. I hit a few from time-to-time (hey, I'm a normal human, y'know!), and I'm ALWAYS getting porno spam, advertising Paris Hilton videos, Viagra (Hey! I'm only 31!), and the most prominent, penis extensions... If you find your inbox saturated in Porno Spam, you can be sure someone on your system (if it wasn't you) was looking at porn...
Aside from tracking/database-mining and spam, the next big bastard on the Internet is SPYWARE. Spyware is simply that, software which passes along information to a specific host. It is usually installed along with "shareware", "30-day trial" or demo-versions of legitimate software such as Win-Zip, Kazaa, among others. Most are intrusive but harmless, passing along your viewing habits, information about your computer, even what software programs you're using. Others are invasive and potentially (if not outright) damaging, and will upload secure information (such as passwords and email info) or even WIPE stuff from your HD.
Most of you probably know all this, because it's nothing new. It's been going on for years.
Which brings me to the point of this little rant...
I was sitting in a café earlier this week (OK, yesterday) and overheard a trio of middle-aged men going on and on and on about "connected appliances". Connected appliances are just that, kitchen appliances that are connected to the internet, whether wired or wireless. Some are connected simply for diagnostic/warranty reasons, and if anything goes wrong (or can potentially go wrong), the appliance sends a message to the manufacturer, which, if the appliance is still under warranty, will notify the owner or perhaps even dispatch a service-person to fix the problem. Sounds like a housewife's dream, right?
Others, like the appliances in this link , can also be used to access the internet, take pictures, monitor rooms, etc.
So who's monitoring the appliances? And what ELSE are they monitoring?
Think about it... sooner or later, some manufacturer will come up with a system that monitors the levels of foodstuffs in your fridge. When something runs low, the fridge will notify you to "pick up a loaf of bread, a container of milk, and a stick of butta*" on your way home from work. Or, it may place an order to the appropriate (IE cheapest) grocery store FOR YOU to be delivered at a prearranged time. The fridge receives daily updates from the grocery stores you frequent (and a few you don't), and will pick and choose the best deals for you, based on the brands you buy and frequency of consumption.
Sounds like a great time-saver, doesn't it? Of course, before placing any orders, the fridge will have to access your bank account(s) and/or credit cards to ensure you've got the available funds...
So, now, you've got a fridge that knows everything about you. How much money you have/make, the brands of foodstuffs you buy, and even the frequency of consumption. And if the fridge knows this, so do the manufacturers, grocery stores, and even the producers of the groceries you buy (or DON'T buy). Now, imagine your email inbox, filled with ads for cookies, milk, diapers, canned spaghetti, pet food, and the like.
"We'll give you $50 USD, Conceited Jerk, for switching to our butter for 30 days"
And that's just the HONEST companies. Who's to say the dishonest ones won't be connecting to your fridge? All things connected to the 'net have an IP address, so as easily as you can be tracked, you can be HACKED.
Operator: "Hey, Chief! The Jerk family buys Becel Light Margarine and NOT our butter!"
Company Chief: "WHAT?! Those bastards! Access his fridge, disable 'owner order verification', and make it order two tubs of our stuff. Increase surveillance and keep me informed!"
Or maybe it's NOT the companies hacking your appliances! Imagine, a pair of teenagers sitting in their car, outside your house, with their wireless-enabled laptops, who have just hacked into your connected kitchen...
Kid One: "Hey, ol' man Jerk has popcorn in the microwave... let's just turn the heat up a bit and BURN IT!"
Kid Two: "Yeah, and look at the fridge's camera... the dinner table is set for eight people! DINNER PARTY! Check the oven!"
Kid One: "Hey! Mrs. Jerk has a roast in the oven... Let's see...12 pound roast...on for five hours...let's turn the temp down a bit so it's still frozen inside after five hours..."
Kid Two: "Yeah! That'll fuck 'em up GOOD!"
Kid One: "They've got six people over, and they're all in the living room watching 'Ten Commandments'. Let's lock the channel on the porno network and lock the power in the 'ON' position"
Kid Two: "That'll teach them for not wanting their sidewalk shovelled!"
...or maybe their intentions weren't prank-oriented. Maybe they were checking your appliance's cameras to see if you were home, and also to see what you have in your home that's worth stealing...
Frankly, I'll stay "behind the times".
* this quote comes courtesy of a Sesame Street short that aired in the late 70's. A little Black kid (sorry if that ain't PC) was asked to go to the corner store for "A loaf of bread, a container of milk, and a stick of butter". All the time spent walking to the store, the kid could be heard repeating "a loaf o' bread, a containa o' milk, an' a stick o' butta" and was heard to exclaim "I rememba! I rememba!" upon successfully asking the shopkeeper for said items. Thanks to my old friend Jason Komoski who reminded me of the quote way back in the ninth grade. He repeated it over and over and over again, until it burned its way into my subconscious. It has been stuck in my head for the last sixteen years. Thanks a lot, asshole! ;)