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Biometrics a cause for concern according to Calgary expert

by Cynthia Roebuck (feat. Thomas Keenan)

CTV News
January 25, 2016

Information is being collected on us in a myriad of ways and there are few rules on its ethical use.

Imagine never having to remember a password again, yet knowing without a doubt that your data is safe from thieves. It sounds like a dream, especially with so many passwords to remember.

“Passwords aren’t working, we know the hackers are guessing our passwords, we know people are using the same passwords, there was just a study, lots of people using 123456 or Baseball or something like that,” said Tom Keenan, an expert in information and privacy at the University of Calgary.

Some companies are offering one solution. Biometrics measure things about us like fingerprints, heartbeats, our faces and even the way we walk or our body odor. That information can be used as a password or to customize products for your needs.

“Your phone will know it’s you. How will it know? It knows where you go. It knows your normal time of getting up in the morning. It maybe reads your heartbeat. So if your phone is stolen by somebody, it won’t work for the new guy,” said Keenan.

The problem according to Keenan is that much of the collection and use of this information is not properly regulated, and could be used against us.

“A lot of people go out and do surveys and they say they have diabetes, they say they have high blood pressure, maybe they are going to get some coupons for the medicine that is relevant to them, that’s the upside,” said Keenan. “The downside is that data is sitting out there, so maybe someday you get turned down for a credit card. In Japan already, there is an app that some employees have to have on their smartphones to see if they fall asleep at their desk.”

Keenan says not only could biometric information be used to spy on people, it can also be used to manipulate them.

“The company that makes Oreo cookies, Mondelez International, is going to bring out smart shelves that track you as you move through the supermarket,” he said.  “They will look at your body mass index, your approximate age and your gender, and if you look like a good candidate to buy Oreo cookies, you might get a two for one coupon.”

Keenan says people should be wary of using the new technologies until privacy laws catch up.


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