The Spy In Our Technology: When Online Activity Tracking Becomes Invasive (cont.)


Webcams and built in microphones on a slew of electronic devices open hacking opportunities in offices and homes.  Some individuals take unusual precautions. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg taped over his laptop’s camera and microphone sensors to ensure that even if a hacker manages to penetrate his security, they won’t be spying on his private conversations and movements, the Guardian’s Alex Hern reported in “Mark Zuckerberg Tapes Over His Webcam. Should You?”  Ex-FBI director James Comey does the same.

Biometric technology uses physical identifiers such as voice recognition, fingerprint, iris, and retina patterns in order to use some devices.  This is used on everything from “smart” televisions to devices that control heat, lights, and security in homes.  However, its potential for privacy breaches can be damaging.  When Amazon's Echo personal assistant recorded an Oregon family's private discussion about hardwood floors and sent the recording to an acquaintance, the company noted that the device may have misinterpreted background conversation.

Corporations use biometrics as a condition of using their services.  Disney World in Florida scans fingerprints to authenticate visitors and uses MagicBands to personalize individuals’ experiences.  By entering the park, consumers must trust Disney with their personal information.

The potential intrusiveness of biometric and other technology draws Fourth Amendment concerns and questions about legalities, particularly over government surveillance and police investigations.  The issue isn’t the technologies themselves, but the safeguards in place for usage.  Firefighters use thermal imaging cameras in order to locate hot spots and save lives.  Police, however, need a warrant to use them during investigations, according to a 2001Supreme Court ruling.