The music sounded, the beams of light danced across the stage as the sparks ignited before Raj Samani emerged and the audience applauded. After such an impressive introduction, the McAfee Chief Scientist shared a statement opening and a brief introduction before launching into his talk. The topic was “Safeguarding our Future Society.” How we can enjoy the use of technology in our everyday lives, while being aware of the violation of privacy that it poses. I attended this McAfee talk at the Webit Festival last year. Every year, the Webit Festival hosts a variety of speakers from globally recognised companies, including Amazon, Forbes, Visa, Conde Nast, and many more. Although it’s generally a tech event, Webit seminars cover a variety of topics from online safety, innovation, consumer buying habits and diversification. It’s a fantastic 3 day event where you get to attend seminars from industry professionals from all over the world and have the opportunity to network with international tech fanatics, entrepreneurs and start-up business owners.
McAfee is an American computer software security company, headquartered in California. Founded in 1987 by John McAfee, it claims to be the largest dedicated technology security company in the world. You might use McAfee as your chosen antivirus on your home or work computer. McAfee offers security solutions for Cloud, Endpoint and antivirus for your PC and other internet devices. I use McAfee antivirus software and I like their product as a consumer. I wouldn’t say that I’ve ever been interested in how their business works or building software. That said, the seminar I attended was fascinating from start to finish. It was by no means a presentation of McAfee and it certainly wasn’t promotional either; rather a demonstration of their knowledge and expertise.
Raj Samani’s talk was concise and relatable. Despite being the Chief Scientist at McAfee, he shared a very honest insight into the reality of having a home full of tech gadgets. He also went on to give both personal case studies, as well as situations where your privacy might be at risk. One of his excellent examples was the use of Alexus or Siri. Working in tech, I would have thought he’d have these devices everywhere in his home. I was rather surprised to learn that he didn’t own such equipment. His daughter on the other hand, loves Alexus and uses it all the time in her own house. Yet, the McAfee speaker revealed that this is something he has warned her against. Smart technology is well linked up and there is always someone listening in at the other end. He then posed the question: “Do you always want someone listening in on your conversations and everything that happens in your home?” By this point reality had hit hard for me. Consumers purchase these home devices easily and without prior knowledge about the privacy issues and what exactly you’re opening your home up to when you buy and install these types of products. Are the benefits really worth the associated disadvantages?
The extent to which technology has seeped into different areas of our lives and used to gather data by invading our privacy is astonishing! Another interesting story that the McAfee specialist shared was about data use by electric providers. Electric companies are now able to not only track how much electric you use but also which devices you’re using. So for example, if you call your employer to tell them that you won’t be going into work today because you’re sick but instead spend the day on your treadmill, utility companies can tell what electrical appliances you were using while at home. If your employer decided to get in touch with the electric company, they might wonder why you were using your treadmill after you’ve said that you were too sick to go to work that day.
I came away from this seminar feeling informed but shocked, quite frankly! Do we actually have any privacy in our lives or are we always being watched and tracked? The main piece of advice I took away from this talk was to think carefully before allowing new technology into our homes and other areas of our lives. It’s impossible, in modern society, to completely escape data collection. However, we can control how much of our personal space is exposed and ready to tap into, especially when it’s unnecessary. Think carefully about the electronic smart devices you use and consider whether their benefits are really worth the privacy risks. And when children are involved, it’s essential to analyse whether a tool designed to save time and make life more convenient is worth the sacrifice of your privacy.
Establishing a healthy relationship with technology is crucial. For ideas on how to spend time offline, check out my Digital Detox Guide here.