Nestled in the “smart home’ and “smart city” showrooms at the sprawling Las Vegas consumer tech conference are devices that see, hear and track the people they encounter. Some of them also analyze their looks and behavior. The technology on display includes eyelid tracking car dashboard cameras to prevent distracted driving and “rapid DNA’ kits for identifying a person from a cheek swab sample.
All these talking speakers, doorbell cameras and fitness trackers come with the promise of making life easier or more fun, but they ‘re also potentially powerful spying tools.
And the skeptics who raise privacy and security concerns can be easily drowned out in the flashy Spectacle of gee-whiz technology.
“Many, many horrible stories have come out of consumer electronics,’ said Cindy Cohn, executive director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, who is speaking on a CES panel about the future of internet-connected devices. “It’s often about hyping the next thing you can buy and not considering the trade-offs.’
The annual showcase is where big companies and startups unveil and promote their latest gadgets, many of them infused with microphones, cameras and artificial intelligence. Though weighted toward the consumer market, much of what's on display may also be useful to law enforcement, not to mention prying employers or heavy-handed governments.
Marcus Yang, CEO of the camera startup Amaryllo, said he's had a difficult time persuading customers to pay more for Safeguards such as faster processors to enable end-to-end encryption, when an array of cheaper, but less secure options are available.
CES attendees “want to see technology and something fresh,’ Yang said. “They’re only interested in looking at your cameras and what kind of features they have.”
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