In 2011, we watched as tech villains found creative new ways to violate our privacy. They misappropriated our social networking profiles, stalked us through our phones, and plucked secrets from our wifi networks. To help you better prepare for 2012's inevitable privacy attacks, we enumerate below the most worrisome threats you should monitor in the coming year.
The Facebook Phone: You already feel really safe and secure with how Facebook handles your privacy, right? Definitely, no question, absolutely why am I even asking it's insane to even ask, right? Because the company feels it has earned enough trust from users to ask them to carry around a device everywhere they go that has a satellite location tracker, sound and video sensors, and ] the names and contact information of their loved ones and who they call and when and how often. In other words, Facebook is planning to come out with phones, by way of a special Facebook phone operating system that hardware manufacturers would install. If you're worried, don't be: The OS will be based on one written by the noted privacy heroes at Google. Excellent, right?
It could take until 2013, but media reports indicate there's a very good chance the Facebook phones will be out in 2012.
Google Wallet: Launched in limited form just this past September, Google's payment system allows you to buy goods simply by tapping your Android phone - if it's the right model - against a checkout terminal like the ones recently installed at Peet's coffee. Money is then siphoned from a prepaid account you fill up with a credit card.
Google is, by all accounts, planning on aggressively rolling out this system to more phones and carriers (it launched on Sprint). Which is why it's too bad that Google's software stores a disturbing amount of sensitive information in unencrypted form. It's not like people weren't already wary of sharing data with a company that already knows so much about us, from our web searches to the contents of our emails to where we go.
One thing that mitigates the privacy impact of Google Wallet is the fact that Verizon is keeping it off its own Google-powered smartphones (not that you should trust Verizon's system either). Of course, Verizon does offer the iPhone, which brings us to....
iPhone as life key: There was some speculation that Apple would unveil "NFC" technology like Google Wallet in 2011, allowing users to pay for various goods with their iPhones. It didn't happen. But it's clearly an area Apple is actively exploring; the company has obtained all sorts of patents related to remote iPhone authentication, including one that would turn the device into a key to your home. So it's no surprise that many people believe Apple will unveil some sort of wallet or keychain technology in 2012.
Then the device that tracks and stores your movements, handles your calendar, knows who you talk to and for how long, and, thanks to Siri, knows about many of your web searches and purchases, will also know about what you buy and when you come and go from your house. Great. At least Apple has a wonderful woops, actually quite scary record when it comes to privacy issues.
Drone wars: The ACLU just recently warned that increasingly cheap and common drones threaten "routine aerial surveillance of American life." The civil liberties group is mainly concerned about law enforcement agencies using the remote controlled sky robots, but blogging and software pioneer Dave Winer recently outlined how private industry could put drones to terrifying use:
What about the day when Google decides to upgrade their maps app to provide real-time views? That's scary because they have the money to put up a lot of drones. And we know they're interested in airplanes. They want the old blimp hangar at Moffett Field. Maybe that's where they'll put their drone factory.
But the really scary idea is when Facebook, flush with cash from their IPO, deploys a fleet of drones to all our houses!
The miracle of flight seems to get scarier every decade. Here's to hoping it's only mildly more terrifying in 2012.
[Images at top, from left to right, via Getty, Sean Narvasa/Flickr, Getty, Getty. Other images, top to bottom, via AP, AP, Getty, Getty.]