Personal data could become commodity

hands on a laptop The CEA said users need to more aware of what they reveal online

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Companies that want to make use of the personal information people put online should pay for it, the US Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) has said.

It made the statement as it released a list of five technology trends to watch for the year ahead.

Privacy was top of the list, which also included mobile and green technology.

"The mining of personal data is here to stay; there is just too much money at stake to imagine otherwise," said Sean Murphy, of the organisation.

"Privacy is only going to continue to get increased attention in the years and months to come," said Mr Murphy who authored the report Selling The Stories Or Our Lives: Technology and Privacy.

Privacy has become a hot topic for net firms with a series of high-profile incidents over the last 12 months. The latest high profile glitch involved the leaking of data from some of the most popular applications on Facebook.

The Wall Street Journal claimed apps sent details to dozens of advertisers and companies that track what people are doing online.

Facebook said that it would introduce new technology to limit the security breach.

Mr Murphy said that there were companies which wanted to give users control of their data and allow those people willing to give their information away a chance to make money from it.

"I haven't seen a successful business model yet but I reckon in the next year we will see people doing the behind the scenes work and aggregating this dossier of yourself and giving you something in exchange for it.

"Companies will embrace it because it becomes more of a transaction where the consumer is authorising the use of their information and carrying out a business deal," added Mr Murphy.

'Economic opportunity'

The report highlighted one start-up firm in favour of this approach.

Bynamite launched software earlier this year to let users find out which sites are tracking them online.

"There should be an economic opportunity on the consumer side," Ginsu Yoon, co-founder of the firm said in the report.

"In a few years...a person's profile of interests could be the basis for micropayments or discounts."

Consumer Watchdog, an advocacy group, said it had no trouble with such a scheme as long as users are fully aware of what they are doing.

"That is the key to the whole thing," the group's John Simpson told BBC News.

"If people are fully informed, have control of their data and choose to opt in to some sort of scheme that offers payments for sharing information or price reductions, then I think that is fine.

"The problem is that right now so much of this is done in the dark with online companies effectively looking over your shoulder while you are online and have no idea your information is being shared."

The CEA's Mr Murphy has also suggested government action is needed in the form of a major public awareness campaign to help users become better informed because so many are largely unaware of what they willingly share online and how the information can be used.

A poll by CEA showed that identity theft was the number one concern among respondents followed by the security of financial transactions and personal health records.

'Connectivity is the future'

The CEA, which hosts the world's biggest consumer electronics show in Las Vegas, said the other tech trends that will impact our future include how video will be delivered to users, advances in mobile broadband and 4G, the latest in green technology and the cottage industry of apps for numerous devices.

Ethernet cable The CEA said connectivity is at the heart of their vision for the future

"One of the over-arching themes of the trends we covered is the importance of connectivity and having these devices integrated to create the seamless experience for the consumer," said Shawn Dubravac, chief economist and director of research for the CEA.

"The average household in the US owns 24 consumer products from multiple TVs, phones and computing devices from laptops to desktops to tablets. The next step in all of this is pulling these pieces together to create this seamless experience so the consumer, the end user, can toggle between all these devices.

"That means if you are reading a book on a mobile phone, you can put it down and pick up exactly where you left off when you go to read it on your tablet device. Connectivity is the future of technology," added Mr Dubravac.

Industry commentator Jon Healey, an editorial writer for the Los Angeles Times, said, for him, making devices more social was important.

"The emergence of social as a function on more and more devices, as a guide as an activity is the most important trend.

"It really does change the nature of who programmers are. For example when you think about what to watch on TV today, you are guided by people at TV studios.

"What we are seeing more and more in the content industries is that you will choose who is going to guide you by assembling friends you trust, people you admire, people you emulate.

This would influence interfaces, he said, so that they say "here is what your friends are watching, here is what they have added to their collection.

"That is a very different approach," said Mr Healey.

Holiday high

Despite the slow climb out of recession, the CEA is optimistic about the coming holiday season.

Mr Dubravac is predicting healthy sales in the fourth quarter and noted that "portability is going to play a big role in who wins and who loses this holiday season".

He said the product categories that will sell well include tablet computers, because they are a relatively new toy to the market and MP3 players.

Mr Dubravac also predicted connected TV's getting some traction as well as set top boxes and new accessories for games consoles such as the PlayStation and XBox.

"I would argue that this recession has highlighted that technology has moved from a pure luxury item to, in some instances, a necessity," said Mr Dubravac.

"An individual who is out of work is not going to give up their mobile phone because that phone is their lifeline to that next job. Many of these technologies have become so integrated into our lives that we forgo other things in our life like dining out and vacations.

"Technology is a part of our lives as we know it today," he added.

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