Skip to main content

Tomorrow’s world

Don’t let Big Tech inside your head

Heather Langenkamp wired up in A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

Many of us blithely allow any old app to track what we’re up to, says Camilla Cavendish in the FT, despite that “vague, creeping feeling” our electronic devices are working against us. But “we need to wise up”, because a new challenge is coming: “how to protect our brain data”. Investment is pouring into “neurotechnology”, which can “record and analyse electrical impulses” from our minds. Brain-computer interfaces have enormous potential benefits, such as helping paralysed people communicate freely or “aiding the recovery of stroke patients”. Gamers could use them to control on-screen characters.

But this new tech could also “invade our mental privacy”. What’s to stop the Chinese government, for example, using it to assess the loyalty of party members? When the US Supreme Court overturned Roe v Wade last summer, “women started deleting period-tracking apps from their phones”, fearing the data could incriminate them if they had a secret termination. That may not be as paranoid as it sounds – in 2016, a man was accused of intentionally burning his house down after heart-rate data from his pacemaker cast doubt on his insurance claim. Two years later, US military personnel inadvertently divulged secret army base locations by publicly logging their runs on a fitness app. No tech can yet read our minds, but major firms like Facebook and Google are well on their way. We have been embarrassingly blasé about the data gathered by our phones. “We must not make the same mistake with brain data.”