Watch out pollsters, soon the Internet of Things will be able to predict elections

Ritam Gandhi
IFA Technology Fair
Watch out - your technology is watching you (Source: Getty)

This year could well be the last time the pollsters are wrong – next election they’ll be able to cheat.

You don’t need a poll to tell you that the general public’s faith in opinion polls has been eroded after the 2015 General Election, the EU referendum and the 2016 US presidential race were all called wrong.

In 2015, we were told it was the fault of the “shy Tories”. They were far too ashamed to admit to a pollster that they didn’t mind an austerity budget or two if it meant the books got balanced. But imagine if you could know what that shy Tory thought, by hearing what they said in private, when they thought no one was listening. That’s what the Internet of Things (IoT) could allow political strategists and pollsters to know, and then some.

The Internet of Things is a confusing way of referring to devices or “things” that are connected to the internet. If your fridge can connect to your wifi and automatically order you a milk delivery based on how much it can tell you have left, then that fridge is an IoT device.

The Amazon Echo and Google Home are both popular examples of IoT, but they’re just the start – they’ll look as old fashioned as briefcase-sized mobile phones in a few years. Forecasts indicate that 6.4bn IoT devices will be in use worldwide by the end of 2016, and will reach 20.8bn by 2020. That’s a lot of clever things, in a lot of people’s homes.

Why so clever? The data these devices can collect is vast. Everything we do can be measured and recorded. What temperature you like your front room to be, what you ate for dinner, what time you got up this morning, how well you slept, the fact that you had an argument with your spouse last night, the accent of the guests you have round for dinner and how often you put food waste in the grey bin because it’s nearer than the food bin.

Now the potential for this data to be used by marketers is obvious. If they know the night of the week you’re most likely to put something in the microwave, that’s the night that restaurant adverts will start appearing on your fridge door. Political strategists are marketers and they sell politicians. The data IoT will provide them can tell them who you’ll probably vote for and what messaging they should target you with to make you change your mind.

Too lazy to take your bins out? They’ll deduce you won’t vote. Do all you can to save household energy? You’ll get a leaflet focused on green policies. Of working age and getting out of bed after 11am every weekday? You might start hearing more about the welfare state. Mention the phrase “strong and stable” every night over dinner? You get the idea. They can know everything about you, whenever they want.

But surely privacy controls will be able to stay ahead of political strategists, I hear you cry. When you’re on the internet today and you see an advert for a pair of shoes you quite like the look of, or a dull political slogan you can’t escape, ask yourself: why am I seeing this? How do they know I want to buy a pair of shoes and when did I consent to this?

The Internet of Things is more than your browsing history, it’s your actual history – and it’s harder to delete. In some ways the IoT will make life so much easier, safer and more enjoyable, but we should all be going into this brave new world with our eyes open to what it means – for privacy, for adverts, and for politics

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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