Business

Monday 21 January 2019

Smartphone heralds end of the affair

Everywhere you look, they are there, on buses, Dart, Luas, cafes. And almost all are smarter than their user. Nicky Larkin investigates

What do you know about your smartphone? The chances are it knows more about you. And it's not very good at keeping secrets.

Smartphones come in many different flavours. Some like BlackBerrys, others prefer Apples. As of the end of January, there were 1.6 million users in Ireland. And as the months roll on, the rise continues. In another year it will be virtually impossible to buy a phone that isn't smart.

That trusty brick that seemed so cutting-edge only a little while ago will soon turn up on the Antiques Roadshow.

Some 85 million Americans use smartphones to shop, and they have now replaced point-and-shoot cameras as the main method of taking photos. In China, smartphones represented 51 per cent of all handsets shipped last year.

Smartphones have media players and cameras. But more importantly they also have a GPS navigation system, triangulating your position. The same as the sat nav in your car, or the navigation system on the military drone in your garden shed. So what does all this mean?

It means if you have a smartphone, your every movement can be tracked. Where you go, who you meet (as long as they have a smartphone too), where you shop – and what you buy. Extra-marital affairs will soon be next to impossible – unless you still have a brick phone.

So not only is Big Brother watching you; he's reading all your messages and monitoring your every movement. It's getting Orwellian and we haven't even noticed.

And on the streets of Dublin your every movement will soon be very closely monitored indeed.

Prof Robert Kitchin from NUI Maynooth's National Institute for Regional and Spatial Analysis has been awarded a €2.3m ERC grant to analyse how software and technology influences how we live, work and operate in cities. The two cities selected for the study were Boston and Dublin.

While the project has many lofty ambitions such as managing traffic and tracking goods from farm to fork, it also aims to effect national security by sharing information on citizens which will influence measures taken at airports. Big Brother is definitely watching.

Several Irish retailers have dropped their pricing on smartphones. Ireland is now one of the cheapest countries in Europe to buy one. Again nobody noticed. Shops are practically giving them away; everybody seems to have one. So what does all this tell us?

Either the people of Dublin have nothing to hide, or they're unaware of the full ramifications of carrying a smartphone. Soon the only safe way to have an affair will be to buy several smartphones and leave them in different locations. One at work, one at home, one in the car. Then according to the GPS you could be anywhere at any one time. The only winners there are the people selling the phones.

As usual, international terrorism has been quick to jump on emerging technologies. In the 2008 Mumbai attack, terrorists used smartphones to locate victims. Once victims were found, they used search engines to do background checks on their hostages. Based on these findings the terrorists determined who lived or died.

Al-Qaeda's digital division, Jawwal Al-Ansar, uses the smartphone as its primary means of communication.

The criminal underworld utilises these technologies. The Gulf Cartel, an international criminal syndicate operating out of Mexico, uses the smartphone to communicate by text with criminal organisations in Europe and the States.

So does the rise of the smartphone represent a huge technological advance that will make this world an easier place to navigate? Or is it just another symptom of a systematically oppressed society – perhaps the final leap towards totalitarian control? Where is the line drawn between technology making us safer, and technology invading our privacy?

Orwell was famous for his extra-marital affairs. He admitted cheating. But he didn't live in Dublin and have a smartphone with GPS.

So if you want to have the affair without getting nabbed, stick with the brick for as long as you can. Because very soon that fancy phone will get you caught.

www.nickylarkin.com

Irish Independent

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