Whether it's our location, contact lists, calendars, photo albums, or search requests, app developers, advertising companies, and other tech firms are scrambling to learn everything they can about us in order to sell us things. Data from smartphone apps, aggregated by third-party companies, can indeed paint an eerily accurate picture of us, and data miners are increasingly able to predict how we will behave tomorrow. For example, as Future Tense blogger Ryan Gallagher reported for the Guardian, Raytheon, the world’s fifth-largest defense contractor, has developed software called RIOT (Rapid Information Overlay Technology) that can synthesize a vast amount of data culled from social networks. By pulling, for instance, the invisible location metadata embedded in the pictures our cellphones take, RIOT tracks where we’ve been and accurately guesses where we will be—and provides all of this information to whomever is running the software. Other companies are increasing the accuracy of such forecasts by comparing our travel habits against our friends’ locations.
Amid the growing popularity of data mining, governments around the world are taking action on perceived misdeeds, like the $7 million fine Google faces for collecting unsecured information. But the stakes are far higher than lawmakers realize. New consumer devices are emerging that, left unchecked, could enable violations of our personal privacy on a far more intimate level: our brains.