Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Research and Writing: Sharing discoveries

Research is an integral part of the writing process. Many of the components in the scenes I am writing come from my daily reading. Sometimes research is directed toward answering a specific question that arose while building a scene. More often it merely adds to the growing "things that would be cool in a novel" list. I spend a couple hours each day reading online: news, science, tech, politics etc. I thought I would share some of more interesting bits and pieces. I am sure that some of these things will stick in my head and eventually find a home in one of my novels.

1. smartphones with a dumb flaw

We've known for  a long time about "spyware" on smartphones that record the keystrokes typed into the phone. Creepy, yes, but also great fodder for a fiction writer! An article just came out is even more unsettling. It seems that smartphones automatically store everything you type in a special database, an unencrypted treasure holding everything that you entered on your phone.

In retrospect the existence of such a database shouldn't be surprising. Typing on one of those things is seriously simplified by the intelligent, learning software that each manufacturer has included with the device. The more you type, the easier typing becomes as the phones learn your habits of wordchoice. How? By accessing the database of your previous typing behaviour. The "dumb flaw" isn't the existence of the database, it's the fact that it is unencrypted. Encryption comes in many forms, but essentially it makes the information harder for a thief to use. If they gain access, encrypted data is unreadable. Encryption is older than me. It's been around for decades and continuously gets better. Apple, Google, Blackberry etc. should have included it to protect their customers, but apparently they didn't.  Clever, mischievous and most likely criminal app designers could include code in a smartphone app and gain access to this database, and therefore to every password, search topic etc that you have entered on the phone.

2. Apple applies for patent to enable iphone to predict your needs:

Again much of this isn't new or unexpected. Apple's latest patent would enable the iPhone to automatically brighten or dim, become silent or louder and many other things in appropriate situations. The phone would essentially "learn" your needs at certain times, in certain places. How? Again, the information of your past behaviour has to be stored somewhere. Based on their history with the keystroke database, we can assume that this data will also be unencrypted and susceptible to theft.

These two capabilities offer some interesting options for a fiction writer. What would a thief do with such information, beyond just the obvious choice of accessing your bank accounts and robbing you blind? Imagine if they could also modify the data stored on the device. Instead of having the phone simplify the users life, a prankster could have it do the opposite: alarms could go off during meetings, it could dim in dark lighting or use precious battery life unnecessarily all day long. I'm sure their are clever app developers already planning on taking advantage of this new insight into the lives of phone owners. If you had access to such information how would you use it?

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thank you for your comments.