Today was the first official day of 2017’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, and I walked the show floor to see this year’s upcoming products and meditate on their privacy implications. I’m a nerd and geek at my core, and this was my first time at CES, so I was excited.
The first stop was a small section dedicated to technology for mothers and babies. The very limited number of companies was surprising to me, but one vendor told me this was because a) CES had only begun this topic area last year, and b) there were already well-established mother/baby technology shows elsewhere, and CES was seen to be both expensive and lacking in a critical mass of interested clientele. The first company I encountered was Mamava, who made privacy booths for mothers to express breast milk. Mainly, as a technology, this was about physical privacy rather than informational privacy, though there were some IoT-like features in the form of mobile phone-based unlocking and awareness of who was inside the booth. Next was a company called Bloomlife, who made what they claimed was the first IoT contraction sensor for consumer use. My presumption is that until the data they collect is shared with a HIPAA-covered entity, they would not be subject to HIPAA themselves, which is yet another glaring problem with sectoral privacy legislation. The mother/baby area was paired with beauty products, and aside from impressive wearable, self-contained breast pumps and questionable laser hair regrowth solutions, there wasn’t much interesting.
Next was the main show floor of the Sands Hotel, which was dedicated to health, sports, wearables, robots, and 3D printing, and a special area for startups, university-led products, and those that received government funding. Honestly, not much blew me away; my inner geek was not very satisfied. From a privacy perspective, I took note of the proliferation of cameras, which is a long established trend. I encountered a British company called Lyte who made sports sunglasses with an embedded HD camera. I noted that they did not have an external light indicating that they were recording, which would be a more privacy-positive feature, supporting the principle of transparency (e.g., notification). The CEO, whom I interviewed, said that this was because their key market was sports enthusiasts, and the glasses would be used in a sports context rather than just for looking cool in public. He said that as they look towards a more general user base, they would consider such things as an indicator light. I saw a number of robots with cameras in their heads, sometimes with face recognition capabilities, which of course makes me wonder about their data collection practices, i.e., who gets that face data, and is children’s data treated with greater care.
I’m quite interested in smart jewelry, in large part because great design is quite difficult. So often, technology just looks like… more technology, so I’m always pleased to see creative, artistic IoT products. One caught my eye today: the Leaf, by Bellabeat, which is an activity, sleep, stress, and menstrual cycle tracker. One of the touted features of the IoT is its unobtrusiveness, and the Leaf certainly makes its technology disappear.
The product that stood out the most for me today was not about data collection, networking, or connecting the physical world to the virtual one. It’s called the Gyenno Spoon, and it does one thing: it helps people with Parkinson’s and other tremors to use a spoon. That’s it. The video below illustrates how profoundly difficult it is to eat for people who suffer from tremors, and shows how an advancement like the Gyenno Spoon can improve well-being and dignity. I’ve been working in technology for over 20 years, and few things have moved me as much as this.
Finally, I chatted with a body camera manufacturer who was moving from supplying law enforcement to selling his product to other professionals. In my interview with the founder, he told me how lawyers, doctors, and tow truck drivers wanted a device to record their interactions so as to have evidence of their activities and to prevent harassment. Again, the theme of camera proliferation appeared, and I can’t help but wonder about the continuing normalization of citizens video surveilling each other. I suppose it’s time to read more about surveillance studies. At least the Venture body camera has a recording indicator light.
Tomorrow, the main show floor at the Las Vegas Convention Center! Now, I’m off to find a buffet.