Infosys CEO: People trade privacy for tech benefits

The digital age has redefined privacy, and we'll accept a more pervasive Internet if there are benefits in return, he says

People are willing to adjust their ideas about privacy if they can benefit from revealing more of their personal information, the CEO of Infosys Technologies said Thursday.

"You allow that privacy to be compromised for a benefit," CEO Kris Gopalakrishnan said during a talk at MIT's Emerging Technologies conference. The definition of privacy must now take into account whether personal information is "properly used to give additional benefits," he said.

His remarks came in a speech about how most everyday items, from appliances to roadways, will contain processors and connect to the Internet. This pervasive network will carry data that generates real-time traffic reports from sensors embedded in roadways or allows a doctor to monitor a patient's blood pressure remotely, he said.

Gopalakrishnan, whose company is one of India's largest IT outsourcing providers, estimates that 50 billion to 60 billion devices will be connected to the Internet in the coming decades as processor prices decrease.

"That is an incredible expansion of the network," he said. "These devices will have intelligence, but most intelligence will rely on the network."

While some will argue whether such a ubiquitous network sacrifices privacy, Gopalakrishnan contends that technology has already changed the word's meaning.

"In the digital world you are leaving trails all over the place," he said.

Simple acts like using a cell phone and buying an airline ticket leave digital "fingerprints," and closed-circuit cameras are scattered throughout cities like New York and London. But there are positive trade-offs for sharing personal information, he argued. Mobile phones and the Web have made life far more convenient, and closed-circuit cameras can prevent crime and help fight terrorism.

Social networking is a great example of our willingness to give up some of our privacy for what people see as a benefit -- being part of an online community of friends.

For the Internet of Things to come about, though, all the legacy devices will need to be gradually upgraded. "The big issue is the legacy problem," Gopalakrishnan said, "appliances that don't have sensors because they're old."

But he implied that sensor networks will help save money, and there are ways to get around the shortage of sensor-enabled equipment. Infosys developed a power strip, he said, into which devices that lack sensors can be plugged. By controlling devices plugged into the strip, Infosys was able to cut the electricity use in an office 10 per cent.

Smart networks will be used for a wide range of things and will lead to changes in data storage and parsing, he said. "This will happen over 20 to 30 years. We will need to develop new databases and analytical tools to use the data."

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