The visualizations illustrate which sorts of data gets sent out by using Apple’s Home app. All this information is about the user’s offline behavior (Weinberg et al. 618) – “previously inaccessible parts of people’s private lives” (Ziegeldorf et al. 2736). With each additional data set, the user can be identified better (Weber 623). Now the question arises:
Who might be interested in what Perera et al. call “contextually enriched information” (34)?
- Above all, the data from the Home app is interesting to businesses of all kinds for targeted advertising. Companies which know about someone’s devices, interests, and character can suggest products and services to these likes and needs (Perera et al. 36; Ziegeldorf et. Al 2735). By analyzing a household’s energy use and the surrounding climate zone, energy companies can make customized offers, for example.
- By monitoring how customers use a product, product developers find out what needs to be changed to improve it.
- Insurance companies
- Insurance companies want to know as much as they can about a possible client in order to avoid having to cover for him. For health insurances, data regarding this person’s physical and mental health as well as his eating habits are interesting, for instance. People who live in a dangerous neighborhood or never lock their doors will probably have problems getting a good burglary insurance (Maras 103).
- Furthermore, insurance fraud could be revealed – e.g. if a person claims to have been robbed, but the data shows he has been home all the time.
- Hints towards a mental illness and a lack of responsibility might make banks think twice whether they will give a big loan to this person (Maras 103).
- When an employee has called sick, information on his daily routine could be used to check if he really is not able to work. If the employee was not home all day or even set a “party time”-mode, he probably lied.
- Human resources departments have an interest in finding out about an applicant’s mental and physical health before hiring him (Maras 103).
- Before renting out a real estate, landlords want to know as much about future tenants as possible, for example how they have treated their former home.
- But landlords are also interested about current tenants and the conditions of their apartments or houses: If tenants rarely heat the rooms but use air humidifiers a lot, mold can spread easily.
- Law enforcement
- To check a suspect’s alibi, the police need information like when the person left the house. One indicator is the time he opened the garage door.
- Moreover, the police could observe subjects without being present (Ziegeldorf et al. 2737). Data from sensors which home owners use to automatically turn the light on when the enter a room show a person’s exact movements, for example. Other suspicious activities are indicated if someone leaves the blinds down all day in the middle of the night.
- In court, the same kind of information is relevant as in law enforcement. In a divorce suit, the plaintiff could provide hints that his partner had an affair if the partner answered the doorbell at night while home alone and then chose the mood “romantic.”
- Governments need information on the population in order to create suitable policies (Ziegeldorf et al. 2735). Data showing that citizens’ energy use is high and environmental consciousness is low might make governments try to address the individual level more to tackle climate change.
- In a more bureaucratic context, governments could get hints whether a person’s tax returns are correct. Using the garage door function daily despite having not registered a car, indicates that this person tries avoiding motor vehicle taxes.
- Like the police, intelligence agencies could use the data to spy on people (Timm), especially the information generated by sensors.
- Last but not least, data from the Home app can be misused for criminal activities. For example, burglars could find out about expensive devices that someone possesses (Ziegeldorf et al. 2737) and his daily routine in order to decide on the best time for breaking in (Perera et al. 36).
All this information is not always completely accurate, particularly because it has to be interpreted. This creates another risk: false accusations. Especially in very sensitive cases such as checking alibis and eligibility for insurances, misinterpretations can have severe consequences. With computers getting more autonomy in data analyzation and decision-making, human common sense does not play such a role anymore – although it may be necessary in these cases (Ambasna-Jones).
Who is already using the data?
Of course, Apple itself uses the data received from the Home app for advertising and product development. But law enforcement, courts, and governments can get hold of Apple’s user data, too – and do not shy away from doing so:
“From December 1, 2012 to May 31, 2013, Apple received between 4,000 and 5,000 requests from U.S. law enforcement for customer data. Between 9,000 and 10,000 accounts or devices were specified in those requests, which came from federal, state and local authorities and included both criminal investigations and national security matters. The most common form of request comes from police investigating robberies and other crimes, searching for missing children, trying to locate a patient with Alzheimer’s disease, or hoping to prevent a suicide.” (Hattersley)
According to Apple’s terms and conditions, third parties – called “strategic partners” – have no access to personal information. However, it is not clear who is included in the term “strategic partners” and whether they are able to get non-personal information – which basically is the kind of data from the Home app. Anyway, there always remains the risk of hacking (Weinberg et al. 620; Maras 100). And then, anyone might get the information (Timm).