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#Infosec19: Smart Home Ads Could Threaten Democracy

The emergence of the smart home is set to usher in a new era of highly targeted, personalized political advertising which could undermine faith in democracy if left unchecked, a leading commentator has warned.

Speaking on the second day of Infosecurity Europe this morning, bestselling author, Jamie Bartlett, argued that many key challenges facing society stem from the incompatibility of established “rules, regulations, systems, norms and behaviors” with digital progress.

“Whether it’s Russian bots, untraceable cryptocurrency or election manipulation, many of the problems are due to the fact the old rules don’t work anymore,” he said.

The Cambridge Analytica scandal offers a glimpse into the future of elections, where small groups of swing voters are profiled and micro-targeted by personalized ads. In this way, elections will increasingly be fought in private, removing legitimacy and allowing the losers to question the results, Bartlett warned.

“Elections become an art of data science and subtle nudges …. the risk is that people stop trusting in elections,” he added. “I guarantee that had the Clinton side won [the US Presidential election], the Trump team would have said the same thing … ‘you cheated’.”

Unfortunately, the “connections craze” typified by the proliferation of smart home devices will only accelerate the challenges facing election regulators, as devices become part of the “matrix” that works to target individuals with political messaging.

Bartlett claimed data science companies could crunch information generated by smart home devices like fridges, allowing them to more accurately profile users for targeting.

For example, they could predict when a voter usually eats dinner, and therefore is likely to be most hungry/irritable – potentially making them more susceptible to messages from politicians with robust opinions on crime or immigration, he suggested.

“The question becomes how can you effectively run an election people trust when [voters are faced with] dynamic content coming through the smart fridge?” said Bartlett. “The problem is that the [election] regulators can’t monitor what people are sharing, what ads they’re seeing.”

The answer is “not beyond the wit of man,” but will require the creation of “clever software” to publicize all the targeted ads currently viewed privately by individual voters, so they can be analyzed and scrutinized, he concluded.

Bartlett also argued that cybercrime will become increasingly automated in the future as tools like AutoSploit allow hackers to launch indiscriminate attacks against businesses of all sizes.

“This means that any vulnerability will be found and exploited in the future,” he warned. “This is why your job is so critical. The closer technology gets to people’s lives, the more it matters to them that it’s secure.”

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