Biometrics in our daily lives, useful or threatening?


Biometrics are a variety of technologies used to identify a person by certain unique attributes, such as fingerprint or iris recognition. Furthermore, some of the tech can be used to track a person’s activity, health, even his sleep patterns. Nowadays biometric technology is used on a daily basis. From the simplest of tasks, such as unlocking your mobile phone, to ensuring national security, biometric technology has impacted everyone’s life. But do its uses outweigh the hidden dangers?

Endless amounts of data are created every day through the use of biometrics. When you go for a run and bring your iPhone, Apple knows where you went, how fast you ran and how that compares to your previous runs. Google usually chips in on this as well, tracking your movement wherever you go.
If you wear an activity tracker, such Jawbone or Fitbit, your sleep patterns are tracked and stored, allowing you to optimize your sleep. Some trackers can even measure your heart rate. Combine all this data and you get a pretty complete picture of a person’s health and daily routine. Rather private information, don’t you agree?

­In New York the so-called Domain Awareness System is a network of 3000 camera’s that allows law enforcement agencies to review video material in order to better solve crimes that were committed. A very powerful and useful tool that is only a face recognition software upgrade away from being able to follow our every move, effectively putting the last nail in the coffin when it comes to our privacy.

All these data combined are very valuable. But who stores it and who has access to it? What if someone gains unlawful access to my biometric data? The consequences could be far reaching. Blocking my credit card and getting a new one when it’s stolen is one thing. Changing my fingerprint is a whole different ball game.

There are plenty of benefits to biometric technology. Imagine a scenario where everyone was wearing a health tracker. If someone would get sick, say a fever, the tracker would instantly notice the change in body temperature. It would alert the person wearing it to take a day off, both minimizing the chance of spreading the virus and optimizing recovery time. The economic benefits would be significant. However, you would no longer be able to play hooky from work..

Chances are we are going to see a lot more biometric technology the coming years. Anything from national security to playing video games will be influenced by it. Lets just hope all that data doesn’t end up in the wrong hands.

Sources:

http://www.technologyreview.com/news/541461/keep-calm-and-play-on-video-games-that-track-your-heart-rate/

http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2014/jun/03/how-activity-trackers-remove-rights-personal-data

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/biometric-security-poses-huge-privacy-risks/

https://www.sans.org/reading-room/whitepapers/authentication/biometrics-double-edged-sword-security-privacy-137

http://www.biometricsinstitute.org/pages/faq-2.html

http://www.wareable.com/fitness-trackers/the-best-fitness-tracker

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One response to “Biometrics in our daily lives, useful or threatening?”

  1. niek441788 says :

    Interesting article. I think there are two sides of the story. On the one hand, there are biometric parameters our mobile devices store about us which are used for big data purposes (matching someone’s online grocery shopping to his/her daily activities like sport) and to provide useful functionalities for ourselves (determining fever level and giving advice to stay home). This use of biometrics is relatively new and follows the trend of customised data gathering popular among app-based companies to personalise their products for potential customers.

    On the other hand, biometrics is heavily used in the security sector, using bio-physical attributes to access a certain (often physical) item (NSA, 2015). These biometric security systems range from iris scans to vein-pattern detection (yes, it exists) to voice recognition to simple fingerprint scanners. Basically everything that is unique about a human body can be used in a biometric security system.

    I believe the difference between the former and the latter is that the former, same as other digital information like browser history, is used as de-personalised data (no names what so ever attached). The latter is nowadays more regularly used to protect personal data (names, bank accounts, contact info, etc.). There is no immediate threat in providing biometrics data per se. Only when this data gets somehow linked to personal information can this be dangerous, but the same holds for other mobile data (e.g. browser history, location services, etc.). To protect all this important data, phone manufacturers have added new security layers like biometrics to smartphones. These are not meant to replace old security protocols (e.g. passwords) but to support them, as breaking through both a password and a biometric security is extremely difficult (NSA, 2015).

    To conclude, in my opinion biometrics serve two parties in a positive way. They provide companies with more accurate data on potential customers so they can adjust their products and campaigns accordingly. They also provide consumers with better security over their personal data, a desire many of us might share in this digitalised world.

    Source
    NSA (2015). Biometrics security consideration. System and Network Analysis Centre as found on https://www.nsa.gov/ia/_files/factsheets/i73-009r-007.pdf

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