I was paying for my parking at a ticket machine the other day. As I patiently followed the sequence instructed by the machine, I thought about how machines and software are increasingly training humans. And we’re just letting it happen. That same weekend I observed several headlines about Samsung Smart TV exceptional eavesdropping capability. From Samsung: “Please be aware that if your spoken words include personal or other sensitive information, that information will be among the data captured and transmitted to a third party.” This isn’t new news, but it got me thinking. It is another example of how we have to change our behavior to work around devices and software. Again.
We can’t live without our multi-sensor devices we still call “phones.” We trust software is doing its job and enabling these cameras and microphones only at our request. We also trust that there are no back doors or malware on the device that enable these eavesdropping features without our knowledge. But it comes down to well-behaved software to not facilitate eavesdropping. The hardware is always ready.
I propose getting back to basics. There should be physically controls in place to disable these cameras and microphones. Similar to the plastic tab you pull out of a newly-purchased device to enable battery contact, or the plastic key you can yank out of a treadmill if the speed of its ad infinitum path gets too much for you. With this would be the manufacturer’s certification that these keys, tabs, lens covers…whatever form they take…absolutely block or allow these sensors from being accessible by any software running on the device.
Software has gotten to be too complicated. It’s time to reintroduce physical controls. For now there is electrical tape.