It is perhaps a sign of the times that when the news broke this week that Microsoft had acquired British software company SwiftKey, developer of a successful predictive text input tool for smartphones, it didn't take long for someone on Twitter to utter a complaint along the lines of "Microsoft will be able to spy on everything we type now".
Perhaps only a conspiracy theorist would maintain that Microsoft's motivation for the move is to be able to spy on what messages everyone is sending to each other via their smartphones. The SwiftKey app is, after all, just trying to predict what you are likely to type next in order to save you time.
But it's easy to see why people's first reaction is suspicion, given the number of headlines we have seen over the past few years about products that have been discovered to be transmitting information about the user and their habits back to the mothership, often without the knowledge or consent of those users.
Just think of the outrage last year when the news broke that Samsung smart TV sets with speech recognition technology for voice commands were transmitting captured audio data back to a third party company for analysis.
In fact, this kind of telemetry data appears to have become so valuable to some sectors of the IT industry that harvesting it seems to have become the overarching priority for many products and services, to the extent that their primary purpose seems to be overlooked.
Think of those smart thermostats that are feeding back data on how people use their central heating at home, yet completely fail to turn the heat on during a cold spell because of a buggy software update.
Or, what about Android apps that say they require the rights to access your contact list, location data and camera, despite the fact that it is just some simple widget that you downloaded to fulfil some minor task?
In the latter case, many smartphone users are doing a deal with the devil. The app is free to use, so they are prepared to the look the other way while the software beams back data about them to its developers.
If the thought of this makes you uncomfortable, then you had better get used to that feeling, because the Internet of Things (IoT) means that many of the devices set to be installed in homes and offices in the future are likely to be smart devices configured to send out streams of telemetry about their environment and about how they are being used.
But this trend has the potential to come back and bite IT industry vendors in the future, if they are not careful. If users are not told that they are being monitored, or it isn't entirely clear exactly what information is being gathered and for what purposes, there is liable to be a severe backlash when the truth comes to light, as it almost inevitably does.
Take Windows 10, for example. This garnered many favourable opinions from people like yours truly who had access to the preview code prior to the official release of Microsoft's latest operating system.
It came as an unpleasant surprise, then, when the first people to download the release code found that Windows 10 does all kinds of things that Microsoft had not (to my knowledge) disclosed until that point, including assigning an advertising ID to each user for tracking purposes and sending back a great deal of telemetry about user activity.
Of course, Microsoft maintains that much of this data gathering is so it can get vital feedback to improve the way Windows works, and you can turn off collection of some data. But there is no single universal off switch, and so it's not entirely clear if Windows 10 is still collecting your data, even if you diligently go through every configuration screen you can find and check the privacy settings.
There is a growing feeling among many consumers that all of this unconstrained data gathering has gone too far. And while some of it may be perfectly innocent - like the telemetry Microsoft often gathers when an application crashes, so it can find out what caused the issue - users are starting to get suspicious of what their data is being used for.
The industry badly needs to get its collective act together and thrash out some sort of best practice for data gathering in IT products, which includes being much more open and honest about exactly what data is being collected and for what purposes. Otherwise, vendors could soon find themselves facing a public backlash over privacy, or tighter regulations from governments, or possibly both.
It's enough to make you think twice about the price of that "free" upgrade to Windows 10, isn't it?
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