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Data Quandary

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

 Professor Explaining



Smart cars, smart streets and smart homes could make life much easier — easing traffic, reducing car accidents to almost nothing, even allowing time spent driving – or rather, being driven by an autonomous vehicle.

The tradeoff for such convenience? One possibility is that your autonomous car takes you only to the highest bidder’s restaurant to eat when you tell it to stop because you’re hungry. You could override the car’s advertising system, but it might cost you.

As the Internet of Things grows, it may follow the rules of the internet now: If something is free, it’s often because the consumer and their data becomes the product. As you’re browsing Google to find an answer to a question or to find a particular item, you’re also presented with targeted advertising.

Mohammad Rahman, a Purdue University associate professor of management information systems, says the quandary surrounding data and its ownership is important to some people. But for the most part, consumers have indicated that they prefer convenience over privacy, he says.

Will that continue to be the case as ubiquitous technology connects us pretty much anytime, anywhere with almost anything?

Rahman discussed how he thinks the Internet of Things will evolve during Dawn or Doom ’17, a Purdue University conference on the risks and rewards of emerging technologies at Purdue held Sept. 26 and 27 on Purdue’s West Lafayette, Indiana, campus.

It may, indeed, be convenient to have your car take you to the grocery store after having communicated with your refrigerator about what food items you’ve run out of. But just how much your car, your fridge and other devices know about you also could be disconcerting.

“[The smart car] is going to become a platform for commerce,” Rahman said. “With such a rich dataset of origins, destinations, even recognizing emotions, the car can tell retailers about you and vice versa.”

Companies, however, may be less comfortable with having their data publicized on the IoT. Rahman and his colleagues in computer science and engineering are creating algorithms that utilize cryptography and the cloud to hide data such as price points.

“If we want to figure out which store gives me the cheapest total price for a basket of items, one way would be to collect the prices of each item from each store and calculate,” Rahman said. “But the stores may want to dynamically change the price of the product based on supply and demand, so, instead, our algorithm will take the prices and spit out a ‘winner’ without ever revealing the actual prices.”

To learn more about Purdue’s Dawn or Doom conference, including a video of Mohammad Rahman’s presentation, visit To learn more about Rahman and his research, visit