Lay down your iPhones, Fitbits, and Google powered gadgets. It’s time to turn yourself on airplane mode. Today, we are going to live a day without data—or die trying.

I first heard about a “day without data” in this BBC feature. Back in 2014, writer, Rory Cellan-Jones, investigated how feasible it would be to live a day without creating a data trail.

The rules for his technology fast were simple:

  1. Hand over your phone
  2. Don’t access the internet
  3. Don’t interact with any machine, service, or entity that can share your personal data

Believe me: It’s harder than it sounds.

Rory found keeping his data to himself nearly impossible. Every move he made left behind data fingerprints to be vacuumed up by a growing network of Wi-Fi-connected devices known as the Internet of Things (IoT).

 OPPORTUNITY:  By 2020, according to Gartner, more than half of major new business processes and systems will incorporate some element of the Internet of Things (IoT). The timing is good, because 60 percent of consumers see big opportunity in the IoT to make life easier.

 RECOMMENDATION:  Your small business should get in on the ground floor of the IoT to improve and enhance services provided to customers. But considerations must be made to handle your customer data without tripping the alarms of regulators or leading to a trust shattering security breach.

To better understand the IoT and how we can safely leverage its powers—both as consumers of its benefits and as SMB service providers— I took on Rory’s 24-hour data detox myself.

And I regret every megabyte of it.

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I wake up having slept the best sleep in months—has the Wi-Fi been causing interference with my REM cycles? I think this must be the sleep of the tech-liberated!

Not quite: I realize that I’ve just overslept. The night before my “day without data” challenge, I shut off my phone and, by extension, my alarm clock.

Brushing my teeth, my wife asks me how my “day without data” challenge is going.

“Prrrtty good.”

“You know that toothbrush gathers data too, right…” she says.

Philips Sonicare FlexCare Platinum Connected App

Philips Sonicare FlexCare Platinum Connected App (Source)

As it turns out—she’s right. My toothbrush pulls data based on coverage, pressure, and scrubbing technique. It makes a game out of dental hygiene with goals that sync with my calendar, and it trains me to be a better brusher.

Progress updates can even be sent and shared with my dentist; that feature freaks me out.

I spit out in the sink. I’m not off to a good start.

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I spend the next twenty minutes racking my brain: What other mundane aspects of daily life are siphoning off my data?

I hear birds chirping outside: I’m going to be late for work. Then it hits me: We have a Nest. Not the twig and feathers variety—the smart home kind.

Setting temperature profiles in nest

Setting temperature profiles in nest (Source)

The lights! The air conditioner! I realize the Nest is recording the intimate details of my thermostat profiles. It knows the pet names I call my foyer lights when I forget what foyer lights are called: “those weirdly shaped round ones by the door.”

With all these details getting shared with a mothership somewhere, my day without data might be over before it’s even begun.

To stop this from getting worse, I decide to turn off the AC. I get extreme blowback from my key stakeholders: my family. I cut my losses and get dressed in the dark.

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I get into my battered early-2000s car. I’m confident of this: There’s nothing smart about this car at all. It doesn’t have computer chips, satellite connections, or even a USB port.

I turn the key and instantly the radio blares.

Oh no: a moment of panic! If this were satellite radio, I’d be in trouble. Instead, it’s FM waves and no sensitive data escapes.

I take a moment to rock out to some Motown funk.

To think, 30 years ago, birds didn’t share flight lanes with LTE. Wi-Fi didn’t ricochet off most every wall, in most every dwelling. The electronic life was just a pipe dream.

The song ends. I pull out of my driveway and off to the office.

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I drive this other route to avoid red light cameras and toll road stops that capture my license plate data. Unstructured data, like photographs, is one of the biggest growing data sources in the world. Gartner recognizes that by 2020 there will be over 20.4 billion IoT connected devices across the globe.

Red light camera policing an intersection - USA

Red light camera policing an intersection – USA (Source)

I’ve made a big mistake! I don’t account for traffic cameras on the major thoroughfares. In most American cities, traffic cameras are set up to observe traffic patterns and density. Traffic updates are then fed to news stations and apps such as Google maps in real-time and dynamically reported on. Several of them record footage of my car.

At the same time, dozens of personal dash cameras record my vehicle as I happen to drive nearby.

The information these cameras collect about my vehicle will be anonymized. In truth, this data probably won’t come to any use. Nor is it likely the personal information could be skimmed to reveal my identity. But these outcomes aren’t much consolation: I didn’t consciously give up my data, and yet, it was still taken and analyzed. To me, it still feels like I broke the “day without data” contract in a small way.

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I manage to get myself very lost, and I dearly miss my GPS.

I’m worried I’ll run into more traffic cameras without figuring out where I am, so I pull into the parking lot of a coffee shop. It’s a famous chain, and I know that if I purchase anything, my data will be captured.

Typically, at this kind of coffeehouse, customer data is aggregated and refined into insight. It is used to better personalize the coffee drinking experience. I might receive targeted ads based on my preferred drinks, for example.

Over time, a doppelgänger of me, built from my brand interactions and ad profile, will be manufactured. I’ll have split identities: a version of myself who lives in this corporate coffee shop’s big data and another version who moves around in the physical world.

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Like looking into a mirror—imagine you, condensed into data (Source)

It sounds distressing if put that way. If you can get over the objections to data privacy, data used to amplify convenience and personalization creates some extremely engaging customer experiences.

In the end, I decide to go into the coffee shop and ask directions.
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I’ve been here two minutes and really want some coffee.

This is the power of data: I have a Wi-Fi-connected coffeemaker at work that makes a pot promptly at 9 a.m. This is also the power of caffeine addiction. I can’t risk creating a data trail, so I bury the craving.

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I debate just stealing one of the unattended drinks at the bar. They belong to customers who ordered them on their mobile devices and have yet to arrive.

Who would know if I took it? But the data would know, the data always knows.

Anyway, theft seems a bit excessive. I think about trying to solicit someone to sell me a secondhand cup of joe.

I’d better not. Strange behavior flags unnecessary attention, and a police report also sounds like a pretty big arduous data trail. Hopefully, this will be last time I think of going to extreme and illegal lengths to avoid leaving behind data leftovers.
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In a moment of weakness, I buy a coffee and ask directions. Just like that, my data is stripped from me. My transaction logs the location, time, and date.

Even though I pay with cash, bank notes can be traced: especially 20s, 50s, 100s, and other large denominations. Someone could find me with only the information I’ve given to purchase a coffee.
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I’m a bit dazed from how badly this day without data has gone—if all the data I created today were a tail attached to my backside, it would be 6 feet long.

I’m also already late for work, so I hang out at the coffee shop and try to relax and not think about data.

Outside, I sit and catch the attention of a golden retriever and his master by the patio seating. The golden has a full mane and looks like a little lion.

I strike up a conversation with the owner. We chat about dogs and data. Her dog is microchipped for identification and wears a GPS collar tracker, because she “couldn’t bear to lose him. ”

Theoretically, every walk this dog takes can be archived. To think, soon one of the biggest vulnerabilities to data privacy could be our beloved pets?

The IoT powered doggy door is already a real thing

The IoT powered doggy door is already a real thing (Source)

I open up my notepad and glance over the article I’m currently writing. It’s titled:

“How I passed the ‘day without data’ challenge?”

Furiously, I scribble it out.

“How I passed failed the ‘day without data’ challenge.”

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I go home and realize that nowhere is safe from the IoT. I lie down on the grass under some shade in my backyard.

Here, under a clear sky, I feel totally unseen. But there is a satellite above me. Even here, I am on camera, exposed, and shedding data.

Watch me: If I’m lucky, I can photobomb a Google Earth photo right now!

Takeaway

I failed the “day without data” challenge, and this is what I learned:

Most other people will fail the “day without data” challenge, too. It will begin in urban areas, but eventually a data trail will be inescapable for all people. Already, according to IBM, every human, every minute, is creating 1.7 MB of data. Scale this to the 7.6 billion people on the planet, and that’s 12 million GB every 60 seconds.

The answer is not to condemn a future in which technology’s barbs dig into us yet deeper, but to master advancements such as the IoT for our own aims and reward.
 

Recommended action

Your small businesses should use IoT to acquire a competitive advantage by mastering the applications of big data, strategies to achieve regulatory compliance, and steps to shore up your security protections on customer information:
 

  • Data Governance: Managing legal use of customer data under the rules and regulations of your region is critical. To learn more about data compliance and data stewardship click here.
  • Data Security: The IoT has increased the risk of data exposure. To learn how to patch up security vulnerabilities click here.