5G — Privacy Not Included

5G technology and infrastructure are being rapidly introduced across the globe, but that isn’t news. Starting as early as 2017, countries such as South Korea, Germany, the United Kingdom, and the United States have been rolling out some form of 5G. While the newly emerging business opportunities are rising, the anonymity and privacy we have become accustomed to are quickly fading. Even though most aspects of our privacy have been diminished by the internet and social media, 5G is going to bring bigger challenges that are not only concerning but potent.

To understand just how we will get ourselves into this privacy nightmare we must look at the Internet of Things (IoT), specifically new sensor technology, ‘smart’ glasses (e.g. Google Glasses), and the impacts of Machine Learning (ML) and Artificial Intelligence (AI).

A Sensor Filled World

The Internet of Things started when we connected two or more machines together. Today, we have billions of machines connected by both wired and wireless technology. For the most part, it’s this connectivity that creates the World Wide Web that we all know and love. More specifically, part of this IoT world includes sensors and visual device connectivity that collect either real-time or close to real-time information and sends this information back to the cloud for processing. While this technology isn’t necessarily new, companies like Wiliot are finding new, better ways of managing and powering sensors by using inked, wireless BLE sensors that harvest energy for its use and communication without the use of batteries. These sensors can be dropped anywhere and survive independently, collecting and transmitting data to the cloud. Yet, what is missing for this technology to be adapted is the bandwidth.

The number of these devices capable of functioning within a network filled with sensors is limited to the bandwidth required to upload their data, this means we cannot have a high concentration of them in one single area or else we won’t be able to effectively communicate. While this is one major problem for companies like Wiliot, there is a relatively new solution on the horizon, 5G. With the 5G network, we can pack a large number of sensors in a small area and have the bandwidth to communicate continuously to the cloud. While yes, this is great, what does it mean for our privacy? How will these sensors be used and will they further impede our privacy? My guess is yes, it’s just a matter of when and who will be the first.

A New Smart Glasses

In April 2012, Google announced a new product, Google Glass. These glasses are a cool, augmented reality tool that can be used to support multiple business models. The need for data indoors and outdoors exists and the use cases are plenty. While the product exists and the capabilities and functions are ready, the product has never been fully adopted by consumers due to a lack of bandwidth. This, as we’ve discovered during our previous 5G discussions, is a huge barrier for new, emerging technologies.

To use smart glasses we need cloud-based AI systems to help us understand what we see and augment our reality with real-time information. While this is an available technology, the problem is just the same as with Wiliot; when we place many smart glasses in a small area we do not have enough wireless bandwidth to communicate back to the cloud. This is again where 5G comes to the rescue and enables all of these unique use cases. We say glasses, but some companies are developing contact lenses that will work just like the Google Glasses we all know. We can add other human augmentation devices that can communicate, collect data, and share information with us in real-time via 5G networks.

In Conclusion

Imagine yourself going to a restaurant, a coffee shop, or entering a conference room where every word you say or whisper is recorded and attributed to you. Every move you make is videotaped and analyzed in real-time. Your body posture, skin temperature, heart rate, pupil dilation, breathing level, gestures, tone of voice, the language you use are analyzed and conclusions and suggestions are communicated to those who come in contact with you via their smart glasses or other AR-like devices.

Even more so, imagine a world where every move you’ve made can be archived and viewed at a later date. Will you feel safe? How much of your everyday activities including your biometric state at every moment are you willing to share with everyone? Dying to know more and what exactly this means for our privacy as we know it, read my next piece, The Death of Privacy.

Also published on Medium.