Long road to ruin

I’ve borrowed the title for this post from Messers Grohl, Mendel, Smear, Hawkins and Shiflett … more commonly known as Foo Fighters.

Why? Well, over the 2018 festive break I’ve read more than a few reflective pieces from those in my extended network about the direction and increasingly intrusive nature of technology in our lives, and this song title leapt to mind. The ‘long road to ruin’ here is how we are ‘letting’ tech companies access and control our lives.

This control may not be actual control, however the trend for app-enabled and ‘smart’ devices like watches, fitness trackers, toothbrushes, weighing scales, light bulbs, door locks, etc. certainly is trending towards this. Whilst we are paying for the devices, sometimes with contactless payment, we are handing over the data of what we do with these devices (personal, location, health, etc.) to an organisation we know nothing about. Nor do we know what they’ll do with that data. Or who they’ll share/sell it to?

From the data we create and hand over one of these purchased devices to the data we create on free services like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc, we have the illusion that we are in control, using features such as how private we keep our account, opting in or out of different settings, yet we don’t have the control we think we have. Amazon is using our browsing and purchasing habits to tailor itself to what it’s algorithms think we’ll want next. Not to mention what we ask Alexa or what we watch or listen to through your Prime membership. Whilst you can link accounts between these services, and the cross-analytics you generate there, you think you’re being clever by not doing it and preventing that kind of access/data control over you, it turns out it doesn’t matter anyway, these organisations are sharing your data/control anyway.

I now have too many devices in the home that have the ability to listen. With only one device actively set up to do this (Amazon Echo) the others all have microphones that could, if hacked or otherwise taken control of, listen without me wanting or knowing it. I hear you cry ‘if you’re that paranoid, don’t have them!’ which I’ll agree with, but I’m also a sucker for making my life easier, or access to information or family or news or games or a good deal on Lego easier. I have chosen to enable these devices and have chosen to bring them into my life. But what they do, that’s the device itself and the organisation that ends up collecting the data I create, with that data still troubles me.

Apart from these devices that collect data on what I do, where I do it, who I’m with, there are also devices and organisations that know more about me than probably I do. Devices with fingerprint or facial recognition. Companies that use voice recognition or voice-stress analysis in an attempt to root out hacking in an attempt to keep us safe, even from ourselves.

So, why a ‘long road to ruin’? Unless we have a full and very frank understanding of this data we create and precisely what is being done with it, by and with whom, then I believe we are all in for a very hard lesson to learn when it comes to light exactly what we’ve allowed to happen in the name of simplifying our lives – “we are entering the post-privacy age.”

Image source: Alan Levine (CC BY 2.0)

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