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Artificial Intelligence

AI in Surveillance: The Silent Observer in Today's World

31 Aug 2023
What is that AI tool is watching you, right now? - Responsible Cyber

We live in an age where Artificial Intelligence (AI) and its myriad applications are transforming industries, and enhancing our day-to-day lives. But, what if the AI tool you randomly found online is watching you right now? This article delves into the risks and challenges that come with using random AI tools online, and highlights the importance of user awareness in our increasingly digitised world.


The Allure of AI and Associated Challenges

AI is not merely a buzzword in today's digital era; it's a transformative technology that's reshaping the world around us. AI's capabilities, ranging from predicting consumer behaviours to automating complex tasks, have led to the proliferation of various AI-powered tools on countless platforms. These tools, promising advanced solutions, attract users, offering them unprecedented convenience and efficiency.

However, as the number of these AI tools increases, so does the variance in their quality and safety. Some of these tools are the product of renowned tech giants or reputable AI start-ups, developed with high standards of security, robustness, and performance in mind. These tools are typically designed to protect user data, adhere to privacy regulations, and offer a reliable, high-quality user experience. In many cases, they are also continually updated and improved upon to maintain a competitive edge and to address potential vulnerabilities.

On the other end of the spectrum, however, are the AI tools that present concerns. They may be the result of inadequate design and development, without proper attention to security measures or data privacy. These tools could be developed by entities with limited expertise in AI, leading to substandard performance or potential flaws that could be exploited by malicious actors. Worse still, some tools could even be explicitly designed with malicious intent, seeking to gain unauthorised access to user data or to infiltrate their devices.

To add to the complexity, it's not always straightforward for users to distinguish between these categories. With AI being a complex field, the average user may struggle to evaluate the technical competence behind an AI tool. Additionally, malicious tools often disguise their true intent behind a façade of legitimate service, making it difficult for users to identify them.

The challenge here lies in the digital literacy of users and their ability to evaluate the safety and credibility of AI tools. As the AI landscape continues to evolve, it becomes increasingly essential for users to discern the quality of AI tools, prioritise those developed by reputable sources, and remain vigilant about the potential risks of using random AI tools they encounter online. This concern isn't merely about getting the best tool for the task at hand, but about safeguarding one's data, privacy, and digital security in an increasingly interconnected world.

The risks, let's explore each of these concerns in more detail:

  • Data Privacy

Data is often referred to as the "new oil" due to its immense value in today's data-driven world. When you use an AI tool, whether it's a personal assistant like Siri or an image-editing tool, you often grant it access to your data. In some instances, this data could be highly sensitive, such as financial information, personal correspondence, or private photos. If an AI tool is not adequately secured or designed with malicious intent, it could misuse this data or allow it to fall into the wrong hands. Take the example of an AI-powered financial planning app. While it could help you manage your budget effectively, it may also have access to your bank details and spending habits. If the app is poorly secured, it could be a gateway for cybercriminals to access and exploit your financial data.

  • Surveillance

In the digital era, the old adage, "If you're not paying for it, you're the product," rings particularly true. Many AI tools, especially those offering free services, generate revenue through advertising. They often do this by tracking, analysing, and categorising user behavior and preferences to deliver targeted ads. In effect, your online activities could be under constant surveillance.

Consider social media algorithms that track your online activity to show personalised ads. While this may sometimes lead to a more curated user experience, it also raises significant privacy concerns. These algorithms are often opaque, meaning it's unclear what data they're collecting, how they're analysing it, or who they might be sharing it with.

  • Biases

AI tools learn from the data they're trained on. If this data is biased, the AI tool can reproduce and even amplify these biases, leading to unfair and potentially harmful outcomes. This is especially concerning with tools related to decision-making, such as job recruitment or loan approval applications.

For example, if an AI recruitment tool is trained on data from a company that has historically favoured a certain gender or ethnicity, the AI could learn to perpetuate this bias, screening out otherwise qualified candidates from underrepresented groups. Similarly, a loan approval AI trained on biased data could unfairly deny loans to individuals based on factors like race, age, or gender.

  • Dependence and De-Skilling

The convenience offered by AI can lead to an over-reliance on these tools, resulting in the loss of skills or "de-skilling." This becomes a risk when these tools are unavailable, malfunction, or provide inaccurate results.

Consider the use of AI-based navigation tools like Google Maps. While these tools have undeniably made navigation easier, they may also lead to a decrease in people's ability to navigate on their own. If the tool fails or provides incorrect directions, users could find themselves lost, highlighting the risk of over-dependence on AI.


Mitigating the Risks

Vet Before You Use

The credibility of any tool or application hinges not only on its effectiveness but also on its safety and the reputation of its provider. Before utilising any AI tool, make sure to investigate its authenticity and credibility. You can check for user reviews and ratings on various platforms. More importantly, take the time to read through their privacy policy and terms of service, which should outline how your data will be used and protected. If they don't have a privacy policy or if it's vague about data usage, that's a major red flag.

For example, if you're considering using an AI-based email filter, you would want to ensure that the tool has strong security protocols to prevent data breaches and that it doesn't share your data with third parties without explicit permission.


Limit Data Sharing

AI tools require data to function. However, the type and amount of data needed can vary. A translation tool, for instance, doesn't need access to your contact list. Always question the data the tool is requesting and only provide what's absolutely necessary for it to function. If the tool requests access to unrelated data, treat this as a red flag. The principle of 'data minimisation' is key here - sharing the least amount of data necessary.


Use Encryption

Encryption is a powerful way to protect your data from being misused. It scrambles your data into an unreadable format, which can only be converted back using a decryption key. While some browsers and apps have built-in encryption features, there are also independent services that offer encryption.

Consider, for instance, you are using an AI-based cloud storage service. If your data is encrypted, even if there's a breach, the intruders won't be able to decipher the information without the decryption key, thus keeping your data safe.


Maintain Digital Literacy

In the rapidly evolving digital world, staying informed about the latest trends, threats, and safety measures is paramount. Digital literacy enables you to recognise potential risks and take necessary precautions. Regularly update yourself on the latest news in digital security and AI technology. Attend webinars, participate in online courses, and engage in community forums. Remember, knowledge is your first line of defence.

In essence, the increasing integration of AI tools into our daily lives calls for caution and informed decision-making. Remember that while AI holds incredible promise, it also presents unique challenges. However, by taking a proactive approach to safety and security, you can enjoy the benefits of AI while minimising the risks.



The question, "What if that AI tool is watching you right now?" emphasises the importance of maintaining vigilance in the digital age. AI offers incredible possibilities, but it's crucial to be aware of the risks that come with using these tools, especially those found randomly online. By staying informed and cautious, users can enjoy the benefits of AI while minimising potential risks.

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