What Parents Would Do With High-Tech Surveillance Tools

Top behavioral experts explore what will happen to parent-teen (and other) relationships as regular people have access to more and better monitoring technology.

If power corrupts, does technological power corrupt absolutely?

At an intimate workshop in Georgetown this week, just a quick Uber ride from the halls of American power in Washington, D.C., discussion turned to a different power struggle — parents vs. teenagers.

Some of the brightest minds in the world were here to discuss the fragility of life in the digital age. And while there was plenty of talk about bad passwords, the recent theft of data belonging to potentially every U.S. federal employee, and how to deal with massive government surveillance, some of the discussion pivoted to a much more mundane matter.

Prepare for a new dinner table conversation

Most privacy discussions so far pit fairly obvious adversaries against each other — government vs. citizen, corporation vs. consumer, everyone vs. hackers. But a new wave of conversations is arriving soon, and you’d better be ready for it at the dinner table.

It might go like this: “But Mom, I had to fill the car with gas. It’s the first time I’ve been late in a long time!”

Mom: “Actually, kiddo, you’ve come home an average of 17.3 minutes late in the past three months.”

Microsoft Research: Click for report.Microsoft Research: Click for report.

Or this:

Dad: “The baby slept 3.6 minutes less last week than the week before. I think we should go to the doctor.”

Mom: “Or, the sun is coming up earlier now, it’s summer.”

It’s Big Data at home. Or, it’s Big Parenting. Or Big Brother.

Anxiety brought on by surveillance is one of the big topics I cover in The Restless Project.

The annual Security and Human Behavior Workshop is not your average technology show. There are only a few dozen participants, and they are hand-picked. There are no formal presentations, just quick 10 minute talks followed by half an hour or more of free-flowing discussion. And the prized participants aren’t computer scientists. They are behavioral economists, medical experts, even magicians. (A large part of my book, Stop Getting Ripped Off, had its genesis at the first SHB conference, where I met The Amazing Randi. His knowledge of fraudster tricks is, well, magical).

Unsaid at this year’s conference, but behind every speaker’s participation: Computer security stinks, obviously, so we’d better turn over every rock to find better solutions soon. These folks aren’t trying to hack computers. They’re trying to hack humans — for our benefit, of course. Behavioral studies of all kinds take center stage. Here’s one small slice of the discussion.

The Internet of Things will fill our homes with George Jetsonlike gadgets that will do everything from remotely unlocking the front door to turning on the roast in the slow cooker. Well, those gadgets are already for sale. So are cameras that recognize people coming and going through the front door. Of course, these comings and goings can be logged and categorized, all the better to see curfew-busting trends.

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