Letting It All Hang Out and How Data Can Serve Us

Amy Castor, October 2nd, 2013

When it comes to sharing personal data, Robert Scoble lets it all hang out. He is not afraid to tell people anything about himself, because he believes that the information mobile devices and sensors and apps collect on him can improve his life.

Scoble was the keynote speaker Tuesday at DataWeek in San Francisco. He is a tech journalist and coauthor of Age of Context, a book about mobile, sensors, data and the future of privacy.

Photo Credit: Yahoo!

If sensors are the tools for collecting data, APIs are the key in making use of that data in new apps and tools that follow us, track us, anticipate our needs and enhance our lives, depending on how you look at it.

Two things are changing right now, Scoble said. One, products are become more personalized, and two, we are seeing a new type of assistive technology that stays one step ahead of us.

When you meet Scoble in person, the first thing you notice is that he is wearing Google Glass, something that makes him immediately interesting.

“My Google Glass knows where I am aimed full time,” he said. “It watches my eyes. It is watching my pupils, so I could probably build an app that tells if I’m drunk.”

Scoble has 200 apps on his smartphone. Each app is a tiny data silo that knows something about him. Sensors aid in collecting that information. “God knows what will become of all that information one day,” he said.

He spoke about low energy Bluetooth, little radios coming on the market that run for two years on a coin battery. People will be sticking them everywhere, he said. These radios spit an identifier into the air and they can communicate with your smartphone.

“Think of all these litte radios firing in the room. They can tell whether you are two feet or 200 yards away. Imagine these radios communicating messages to apps on your smartphone and then sending you messages based on where you are,” he said.

Scoble believes data can improve your life. He shares a lot of data on social media. When he posted about his own kidney disease on Facebook, he said he got comments from doctors around the word suggesting new forms of treatment, telling him where to go.

Data can even save your life, he said. Currently sensors are evolving that you put in your mouth and they can tell if you are going to have a heart attack within 24 hours. Others can detect certain types of cancer. The pilots who fly the President around wear vests with accelerometers that can tell if a pilot has gotten enough sleep, he said.

Apple’s iOS 7 studies your behavior. It knows all the places that you’ve been, but Apple is open about what it is doing. Good companies will be transparent and let us know they are studying us. They will be correctable (in other words you can go in and correct information a device collects that is wrong) and let us turn their apps off if need be, he said.

One day our smartphones will be able to study our patterns and apps will anticipate our behavior. For example, imagine approaching your favorite coffee shop and arriving to have your medium latte, whole milk with an extra shot waiting for you?

“Where this stuff is really going, is that it will know what is in your head,” Scoble said. “When you turn highly depressed, your voice changes. My Google Glass is listening to my voice now. It could know when I’m depressed.”

Will all this personal data be used by marketers to target for a barrage of advertising? Will the government use it to spy on us? Will people in foreign lands use it to steal our identities?

“If you buy into this new world, you see it serves you. It saves you time. There is a downside,” he said. “It has not happened to me personally but I do not live my life that way,” he said.

You can read more abouts Scoble’s thoughts, views and ideas on data and technology on his blog.

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