2010 Top Scary Trends in Tech

Yes, it's Halloween season of 2010, and our "fearless" editors have asked upon the ZDNet contributors to come up with "Scary Tech", the technologies that are so frightening, they'll make you evacuate from multiple "interfaces".
Written by Jason Perlow, Senior Contributing Writer

Yes, it’s Halloween season of 2010, and our “fearless” editors have asked upon the ZDNet contributors to come up with “Scary Tech”, the technologies that are so frightening, they’ll make you evacuate from multiple “interfaces”.


Yes, it's time again for Scary Tech Trends. Last year, the monsters were such awful ghouls, ghosts and goblins as Unreliable Clouds, IT Consolidation, Virtual Workplaces, The Never-Ending Workday and Cyber Bullies from Hell. This year, I've got a bunch of new ones for you, so let's crack open a fresh bucket of chilled monkey brains and get our B-movie rolling.

The Night of The Smartphone Zombies

You've seen these poor, lifeless beings everywhere. People -- if you can still call them that -- with pallid, emotionless faces, staring down at small screens while they walk direction-less down the street, completely unaware of their surroundings. Yet these poor souls actually believe they are more "connected" to the outside world and more people than ever.

Sometimes they return to real life, and have real interactions with living human beings, but then this horrible urge kicks in which compells them to pull out their iPhone, their Android, their BlackBerry. Their PRECIOUS.

They'll pull it out in the middle of a business meeting while someone else is talking, and they'll fiddle with it in the bathroom stall at work (or, good heavens, take calls on it and seal deals while on the can). They'll pull it out in the middle of dinner with family. They'll mess with it while everyone is cuddling on the couch, watching TV. And even after satisfying the most basic of human requirements, it still won't go away. "Oh was it good for you, honey? Great, you nap, I'm gonna play Angry Birds." What happened to smoking a cigarette?

If they can think of any inappropriate, awkward time to stare at their little screen and tap on their little itty, bitty keys, they will. Because their PRECIOUS compels them.

And the longer they have the smartphone turned off or not being used, the greater the urge is to pull it out and use it, as if it has some evil spell cast on them. They must Tweet. They must Status Update. They must Check In. They must Text. They must check for emails. They must. MUST!!!!! EVERY. SINGLE. MINUTE.

They've become the 21st-century equivalent of Smeagol. Once, they were human beings. But now they're Smartphone Zombies. They may think they're connected to more and more people and information than ever, but for these poor creatures, life is just an illusion.

Now excuse me while I check my Twitter feed on my Droid. MY PRECIOUS!

The Tech Lawsuits That Wouldn't Die

Apple's suing HTC and Nokia, and Microsoft is suing Apple and Motorola. Motorola is also suing Apple and Motorola is being sued by RIM, and Oracle is suing Google. And that's the simple version.

What's it all about? Patent infringement and enforcement in the mobile industry. Not only is this tying up the legal system and essentially just making blood-sucking attorneys and law firms richer, but it's also slowing the progress of the technology industry and hurting consumers.

All of which will go on for years and years. What is it good for? Absolutely nothing. The big fish want to jockey for position because they see their competitors encroaching on their territory. So in lieu of making more compelling products and letting the market decide, they use the legal system as a weapon instead.

Where's Dr. Van Helsing when you need him?

I Know Where You Are... Because You Told Me!

I'm not sure what's scarier, people who are totally oblivious that their lives have been fully absorbed by their smartphones, or that these same people are willing disclose their whereabouts at every opportunity because they think that it's "hip" or "cool" to "Check In".

Check-in for, WHAT, exactly? To gain "Points" and merit badges? What is this, the frickin' Boy Scouts?

For what purpose do you need to broadcast your whereabouts to every single one of your FaceBook contacts or the entire Internet on your Twitter stream in real time? Because you have so much vanity that your actual location being accurate within minutes is so important to your friends and family? Do they need to know that you buy a bear claw and a large cup of coffee at Dunkin' Donuts at 8:24am every morning? That you just walked into the Planned Parenting clinic? You think it's some kind of incredible achievement that you just became Mayor of the Route 4 McDonalds in Paramus?

What's scary here is that these vanity location-aware services like FourSquare and now FaceBook are harvesting thousands of time stamped location datapoints per year for every single one of these users that willingly and often use these services.

What's worse is the future potential for data-mining which could allow, say, a private investigator or a potential employer or a financial services company or insurance carrier or anyone else with a vested interest in how you spend your time could someday use this information against you. Never mind stalkers who want to actually do you and your family physical harm. "Oh you checked into McDonalds and Dunkin' Donuts 84 times from 2009 to 2010? Oh I'm sorry Mr. Smith, we're going to have to raise your life insurance premium, eating all that crap can't possibly be good for you."

But don't listen to me, I'm alarmist. Keep checking in. Really.

Blah! I Come To Suck Your Personal Data!

Location aware services are scary when people are willing to share this information with others, but even scarier is the amount of data that gets shared and distributed that you DON'T wan't others to see. Social Media services like FaceBook encourages its users to "Like" everything because the button is now becoming prevalent and integrated into every single web site.

The more you "Like", the more datapoints that get built up and stored which FaceBook can use to monetize to advertisers and other third parties. As with the potential hazards of location-aware services like Foursquare, there is a literal goldmine of profiling of "Like" information that gets stored for each and every FaceBook user which could someday come back and bite you.

"Like" information isn't the only data on FaceBook you need to worry about. The service seems to change its personal privacy defaults on a yearly basis and if you leave things as they are, chances are there is data within your profile that is being shared out to the world that you don't want via FaceBook's Graph API. This information that you don't want shared can even be pulled from what seem like harmless games and applications.

If you haven't done so, take a look at my 20 Minute FaceBook Lockdown Videos and secure you and your family members' profiles right away.

Attack of the Mutant Botnets and Worms

Botnets used to be the domain of Script Kiddies on Internet Relay Chat (IRC) for going after financial and personal data on large targeted groups of individual end-user PCs, but now they've become the preferred cyber-attack tool of hostile governments and their official and unofficial cyber-warfare agents to attempt to steal data and deny service of large end-user services such as Twitter, Yahoo, Google and FaceBook, as well as corporate and government extranets.

Botnets require a great deal of of coordination and infrastructure on the part of the cybercriminals to run, which is why they are giving way to more sophisticated, self-replicating attack mechanisms such as Stuxnet, which is a complex computer virus that has been specifically designed to attack industrial infrastructure, such as power plants.

Unlike Botnets that have to be coordinated and attack web sites and systems externally, self-replicating worms such as Stuxnet can be injected into the target environment by simply inserting an infected USB key into a Windows PC and using Zero-Day exploits to compromise large networks.

So far, worms like Stuxnet have mainly attacked and damaged infrastructure in countries like China and Iran, and the US has largely escaped being compromised by this new form of worm so far. However, I fear that we may very well be looking at a future where critical aspects of our national infrastructure running on Windows are brought to a halt by complex worms created by hostile governments or terrorist groups on an on-going basis.

Or will we learn from our mistakes by migrating our mission-critical systems to hardened Mainframe, UNIX and Linux-based systems in favor of their vulnerable Microsoft counterparts?

What other scary trends in tech have you encountered this year? Talk Back and Let Me Know.

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