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Engaging Privacy and Information Technology in a Digital Age
information that can be gathered and stored and the speed with which that information can be analyzed, thus changing the economics of what it is possible to do with information technology. A second trend concerns the increasing connectedness of this hardware over networks, which magnifies the increases in the capabilities of the individual pieces of hardware that the network connects. A third trend has to do with advances in software that allow sophisticated mechanisms for the extraction of information from the data that are stored, either locally or on the network. A fourth trend, enabled by the other three, is the establishment of organizations and companies that offer as a resource information that they have gathered themselves or that has been aggregated from other sources but organized and analyzed by the company.
Improvements in the technologies have been dramatic, but the systems that have been built by combining those technologies have often yielded overall improvements that sometimes appear to be greater than the sum of the constituent parts. These improvements have in some cases changed what it is possible to do with the technologies or what it is economically feasible to do; in other cases they have made what was once difficult into something that is so easy that anyone can perform the action at any time.
The end result is that there are now capabilities for gathering, aggregating, analyzing, and sharing information about and related to individuals (and groups of individuals) that were undreamed of 10 years ago. For example, global positioning system (GPS) locators attached to trucks can provide near-real-time information on their whereabouts and even their speed, giving truck shipping companies the opportunity to monitor the behavior of their drivers. Cell phones equipped to provide E-911 service can be used to map to a high degree of accuracy the location of the individuals carrying them, and a number of wireless service providers are marketing cell phones so equipped to parents who wish to keep track of where their children are.
These trends are manifest in the increasing number of ways people use information technology, both for the conduct of everyday life and in special situations. The personal computer, for example, has evolved from a replacement for a typewriter to an entry point to a network of global scope. As a network device, the personal computer has become a major agent for personal interaction (via e-mail, instant messaging, and the like), for financial transactions (bill paying, stock trading, and so on), for gathering information (e.g., Internet searches), and for entertainment (e.g., music and games). Along with these intended uses, however, the personal computer can also become a data-gathering device sensing all of these activities. The use of the PC on the network can potentially generate data that can be analyzed to find out more about users of PCs than they