Business, Economics and Jobs

CES 2013: 'Big Brother' gadgets trade privacy for data


Samsung Galaxy Camera at Samsung booth at the 2013 International CES at the Las Vegas Convention Center on January 10, 2013 in Las Vegas, Nevada. CES, the world's largest annual consumer technology trade show, runs from January 8-11 and is expected to feature 3,100 exhibitors showing off their latest products and services to about 150,000 attendees.


Joe Klamer

As the 2013 Consumer Electronics Show comes to a close, one thing has become clear – more and more companies are expecting consumers to voluntarily give up their personal information while using the latest gadgets.

Some of the cutting-edge gadgets which employ consumer technology will track things like an individual’s eye movement, physical location and calories consumed - and that's just the beginning. 

Several technology companies unveiled what they called “Smart Televisions” at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show. These televisions would use devices like eyes trackers and voice recognition software to figure out who was watching TV and determine what that individual would like to watch. 

"Increasingly, TVs will know who is watching them and I expect advertisers will know shortly thereafter. This should result in shows and commercials you like more and even better products, but far less privacy," said Rob Enderle, an analyst and consultant with Enderle Group to the Sydney Morning Herald.

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The Herald also reminds readers of how this new technology is reminiscent of George Orwell’s Telescreen from his novel '1984' in which similar technology was used to monitor the activity of the citizens in Oceania.

In spite of such an eerie resemblance, industry leaders say the technology is the next logical step for television technology and viewing. 

For more active technophiles, health gadget company Fitbit unveiled its fitness monitoring bracelet. Called “Flex,” the device can track steps, distance, calories and how many minutes the user has been active. It also tracks how long the user has been sleeping and details how much the user has been moving in his or her sleep. The website that works in tandem with the Fitbit bracelet will also track user weight goals, calories consumed and the fitness progress of friends.

Indeed, such data-collecting sensors are being attached to a host of new products. Forks with accelerometers will tell a user how quickly they're eating, while sharing the results with friends on store data logs.

According Shawn Dubravac, chief economist at the Consumer Electronics Association, 350 million IP addressable devices will ship worldwide this year. Any device with an IP address makes the physical location of its user traceable. Along with a physical address, many of these devices, like Fitbit’s “Flex,” will upload personal information to online databases. 

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While technology company CEOs may think their consumers are ready to volunteer more personal data than ever before, some consumers still feel like walking into a living room with a television that knows who they are is more than they’re willing to accept. 

"The concept is not so much Big Brother as Big Marketer," Thomas Coughlin of the data consulting firm Coughlin Associates told the Sydney Morning Herald at the Consumer Electronics Show. 

"This could be creepy to some of us because it is making use of data in a way that has not been done before."