Dada Data and the Internet of Paternalistic Things

This piece of speculative fiction exploring a possible data-driven future first appeared in Internet Monitor project's second annual report, Internet Monitor 2014: Reflections on the Digital World. Check it out for more from my Berkman colleagues on the interplay between technological platforms and policy; growing tensions between protecting personal privacy and using big data for social good; the implications of digital communications tools for public discourse and collective action; and current debates around the future of Internet governance.

Mother.

Mother.

My stupid refrigerator thinks I’m pregnant.

I reached for my favorite IPA, but the refrigerator wouldn’t let me take one from the biometrically authenticated alcohol bin. 

Our latest auto-delivery from peaPod included pickles, orange juice, and prenatal vitamins. We never have orange juice in the house before because I find it too acidic. What machine-learning magic produced this produce? 

And I noticed the other day that my water target had changed on my Vessyl, and I wasn’t sure why. I figured I must have just been particularly dehydrated. 

I guess I should have seen it coming. Our Fountain tracking toilet noticed when I got off hormonal birth control and got an IUD instead. But I thought our toilet data was only shared between Nest and our doctors? What tipped off our Samsung fridge? 

I got a Now notification that I was ovulating a few weeks ago. I didn’t even know it had been tracking my cycle, let alone by basal body temperature through my wearable iRing. I certainly hadn’t turned that feature on. We’re not even trying to have a baby right now. Or maybe my Aria scale picked up on some subtle change in my body fat? 

Or maybe it was ComWarner? All our appliances are hooked up through one @HomeHub. I didn’t think twice about it because it just worked—every time we upgraded the dishwasher, the thermostat. Could it be that the @HomeHub is sharing data between the toilet and our refrigerator? 

I went into our @HomeHub interface. It showed a bunch of usage graphs (we’ve been watching a “below average” amount of TV lately), but I couldn’t find anything that looked like a pregnancy notification. Where was this bogus conception data coming from? 

My iWatch pinged me. The lights in the room dimmed, and a connected aromatherapy candle lit up. The heart monitor on my bra alerted me that my heart rate and breathing was irregular, and that I should stop for some meditative breathing. I sat down on my posture-tracking floor pillow, and tried to sink in.

But I couldn’t keep my mind from wandering. Was it something in the water? Something in my Snap-Texts with Kathryn? If it was true, why hadn’t my doctor called yet? Could I actually be pregnant? 

I turned on the TVTab to distract me, but I was bombarded with sponsored ads for “What to Expect When You’re Expecting 9.0” and domain squatter sites that search for a unique baby name. 

I searched for similar incidents on the Quorums: “pregnancy Samsung refrigerator,” “pregnancy Fountain toilet.” Nothing. I really wanted to talk to someone, but I couldn’t call Google because they don’t have customer service for @HomeHub products. I tried ComWarner. After waiting for 37 minutes to speak with a representative, I was told that the he couldn’t give out any personal data correlations over the phone. What bureaucratic bullshit! 

It can’t be true. Russell has been away in Addis Ababa on business for the three weeks. And I’ve still got the IUD. We aren’t even trying yet. This would have to be a bio-correlative immaculate conception. 

I tapped Russell on his iWatch three times, our signal to call me when he is done with his meeting. I was freaking out. 

I could have really used that beer. But the fridge still wouldn’t let me take it. What if I am really pregnant? I opened up Taskr to see if could get an old fashioned birth control test delivered, but price was three times as expensive as it normally would be. I considered CVS, but I thought better of it since you can’t go in there anymore without a loyalty card. It was far, but I skipped the self-driving Uber shuttle and walked the extra mile to the place that accepts crypto, where I wouldn’t be tracked. I think. And that’s when I got the notification that my funding interview for my new project the following morning had been canceled. 

 

Read more in the Berkman Center’s Internet Monitor 2014: Reflections on the Digital World.

Nest thermostat acquisition is Google's home invasion — New Scientist

Chris Baraniuk interviewed me for the New Scientist about Google’s $3.2 billion acquisition of Nest.

"Nest has always been a company that’s been interested not just in devices but also the data and algorithms behind them," says Sara Watson at Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society. “Obviously that’s going to pique Google’s interest.”

The Nest thermostat is designed to learn when and how you like to heat your home. After a 12-day set-up period, the device has learned your basic schedule, is able to turn the heating on and off intelligently, and in the process it attempts to save you energy by only firing up the boiler when you really need it.

Watson believes Google is now a company obsessed with viewing everyday activities as “information problems” to be solved by machine learning and algorithms. Google’s fleet of self-driving vehicles is just one example. The home is no different, and a Google-enabled smart home of the future, using a platform such as the Google Now app – which already gathers data on users’ travel habits – could adapt energy usage to your life in even more sophisticated ways.

"Imagine Google Now knows you’re on your way home," suggests Watson. "The thermostat can predict that you’re going to be home in 10 minutes and it can get the heat going."

Read more…