On my radar: Good geeks strike back

2013-09-11 10:00

Sure, technology has a dark side, but there are legions of supergeeks out there working hard to keep it in check

Irecently wrote about the ­potential for people to use technology’s “dark side” (“The dark side of tech”, City Press, August 7 2013).

We are discovering we can use new technologies for good as well as evil. I used the Star Wars analogy of being lured to technology’s dark side, but while the proponents of technology’s dark side will keep the conspiracy theorists awake at night, you can rest assured there are an equal number of Jedi-like geeks thinking ahead and closing those cyberloopholes.

In the column, I wrote about the threat of drones: those unmanned flying machines that deliver beer at music festivals, but are also used by the American government to spy on its own citizens. But if technology is the fastest driver of change, then fashion has always been ­regarded as the second-fastest, so it is no surprise a fashion designer has come up with the perfect foil to nosy drones.

Drones use thermal imaging to detect people on the ground, so Adam Harvey – a designer/artist based in New York – has launched a clothing line called Stealth Wear, which includes an “antidrone hoodie”.

This hooded top uses a metalised material designed to counter thermal imaging. Its effect would be a bit like ­Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak, only more hip and urban. The only area that may still be left vulnerable would be your face, but on the other side of the planet, a Japanese designer is thinking about that potential problem.

In the not-too-distant future, your face will be scanned as you walk into a shop. The store’s software will ­rifle through your social media database and search for your likes and dislikes, so that by the time a shop assistant greets you, he or she will know what your preferences are and fast-track your shopping experience.

To combat this, Japan’s National Institute of Informatics has invented the world’s first “privacy visor”. It makes you look somewhat like a robotic cyborg, with flashing lights that strobe across a clear Perspex visor, but then in the future you might just forgo vanity for a bit of privacy.

For celebrities who already crave privacy, a solution has been found to counteract those pesky paparazzi hounds. The anti­paparazzi handbag is now available from Adam Harvey. This ­ingenious handbag is light sensitive and will sense a camera flash.

At the same time that it detects a flash, it emits its own powerful flash, which in effect destroys the ­paparazzo’s precious shot. No more stealth photography.

In the realm of banking and transacting, technology is also moving too fast for most people’s comfort. Not only will our smartphones soon house all our credit card information, but NFC (near field communication) technology will enable us to simply tap or swipe our phones on or over a ­receptor for us to make a payment.

But before we get to that stage, many credit cards are already RFID (radio frequency identification) enabled. This means instead of having to swipe your credit card through a machine, as we do now, you will just need to wave your card near a reader to complete a transaction.

RFID is being embedded in passports and will be used by passport-control officers to speed up border crossings. But anyone with a reader could walk past you and scan your wallet or handbag without your knowledge, and not only steal your credit card details, but your ID.

But fear not. The good geeks are on the offensive already.

US company Identity Stronghold already produces a range of wallets and purses that provide protection against payment fraud and identity theft. Their Secure Wallet will block any scanning frequency and ensure your credit cards or passports are safe from tech-savvy criminals. Unfortunately, this type of technocrime is already a reality.

But may the force be with you.

» Chang is the founder of Flux Trends. Visit www.fluxtrends.com

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