By Nick Bilton
New York Times
Listen very carefully to me. Don't look up. You are being watched.
That stranger sitting across from you. Though it looks as if he is talking on his smartphone, he is actually snapping pictures of you using a paparazzi-like app.
That's not all. At that meeting last week, when you made that snide joke about your boss, your co-worker's smartphone, innocuously sitting on the table, was recording everything you said.
Later at a restaurant, when you made an innocent, flirty joke to the server, someone recorded video of the entire interaction.
There is nothing you can do to stop any of it. Hundreds of millions of smartphones in the world mean hundreds of millions of recording devices ready to capture your every move or utterance. Then, it is easy to catapult those photos, recordings or videos onto the Internet for all to share.
So how can it be stopped? Either someone invents that invisibility cloak from the Harry Potter movies, or companies will have to take a cue from James Bond and develop countersurveillance products that allow us to move about without worry in public.
It could be the companies that have created these technologies that help protect us from them. For example, late last year Apple patented a technology that can disable an iPhone camera, using infrared sensors, when it is pointed at a concert stage or movie theater. It was created to prevent music or movie piracy.
But this product could be useful to regular people, too.
Todd Morris, founder of BrickHouse Security, a surveillance and counterspy company, said some technologies exist today to help protect people. For example, women can use the SpyFinder camera detector in dressing rooms to detect if a secret camera is hidden among a pile of clothes.
Yet there are limits. A dressing room or an office is quite different from a large, crowded space. Disabling a phone camera in a crowd using something like the Apple technology would be a nuisance to the innocents who are taking pictures of friends or landmarks. The Federal Communications Commission has long frowned on devices that jam radio signals from cellphones.
"Short of wearing a stocking over your head, or a fake mustache, there isn't a way for someone in a crowd to inconspicuously avoid having pictures taken of them," Morris said. "In these instances, we will have to use technology to fight technology at the server level by creating algorithms that say, 'Do not post this picture of me on Google.'"
If companies can tag people on the Internet by recognizing their face or voice, they should be able to untag them just as easily, too.
A day when everyone is Big Brother will dawn as people start wearing Google glasses, or a competing pair of spectacles, that throw the Web up on a lens and also record the world.
Tony Fadell, founder of Nest Labs, which makes smart thermostats, said cloaking devices would become available to protect people's privacy. What he called audio cloaks could take the form of a hat that rains down white noise, thwarting any possibility of recording someone's chatter. Cloaking images, however, will be much harder, he said.
Much of the monitoring will come from governments that hope to deter crime by monitoring us, says David D. Cole, a professor of law at Georgetown University. He added that "one of the great problems of our time is, 'How is our right to privacy - which is so integral to our democracy - preserved in the face of technology?'"