Would you recognize yourself from your data?

Would you recognize yourself from your data?

The circular, grey robot vacuum gently bumps against against my feet.

It stops, rotates and follows a skirting board along the kitchen, emitting a loud and unbroken drone.

Throwing out beams of invisible light, it plots obstacles and walls, the narrowness of corridors and the expanses of open areas that it can then – gratefully – accelerate into.

On a phone connected to it, a floor plan of the house is gradually drawn, inch by inch, bump by bump.

As it quietly docks itself in its charger, the floor plan it has built leaves the vacuum and ends up on a cloud server in China.

If you squint to read the device’s Terms and Conditions, you’ll learn that this plan might be shared (although not sold) to a variety of the manufacturer’s partners.

“We use network analytics to understand where this traffic is sent, and what kind of traffic it is,” says Anna Maria Mandalari, part of the Systems and Algorithms Laboratory at Imperial College London that measures how data from your home ends up all over the world.

The lab has also found “smart” bulbs and plugs that tell advertising companies whenever they’re switched on or off, and a webcam that sends data, of some sort, to 52 organisations other than its manufacturer.

“I was surprised to see the data going to so many third parties,” Anna said, of the devices they’d looked at.

“Of course, people should be worried. If the data isn’t being used just for making the device work, then who knows why it’s being collected and how it’s being used?”

Would you recognize yourself from your data?

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