Internet of Things

To continue with the discussion of online privacy from a post earlier this year, I wanted to briefly mention the Internet of Things (IoT).

The IoT basically just means where everyday items have internet connectivity, so they can send and receive data. So we have ‘smart watches’ and ‘smart rings‘, fridges with the internet to do grocery shopping on and so forth. You can read more about this trend on the Center for the Future of Libraries webpage.

While these advances are exciting, few people seem to stop and think about how these products can affect our privacy.

The American Library Association explain the development of this issue:

Emerging trends, including the internet of things, which will introduce a multitude of uniquely identifiable devices connected to the internet, will increase the likelihood and inevitability of sharing personal information with companies and/or the public. The “smart home” composed of internet-connected devices raises privacy issues ranging from shared passwords and accounts across family members and home helpers (babysitters, house cleaners, building superintendents, etc.) to the threat of hacked software, malware, or the release of revealing data…Smart devices collect and store information related to personal preferences like temperature or lighting and patterns like the time families arrive home or how frequently an individual exercises. Individually, these data points might not cause concern, but when put together, they might reveal intimate details individuals may not want shared.

The Guardian reports that the US intelligence chief has acknowledged that “[i]n the future, intelligence services might use the [internet of things] for identification, surveillance, monitoring, location tracking, and targeting for recruitment, or to gain access to networks or user credentials”.

Another great article on this topic is by Bruce Schneier in Motherboard, and well worth a read if you want to understand more about your devices ‘spying’ on you.

A really interesting example is connected toys and privacy issues. These days, a lot of children’s toys connect to the internet, use speech recognition and have more high tech  functions. As the MIT Technology Review discusses, this raises concerns for the security of children. Hackers have targeted these toys already. Unfortunately, the technology is moving much faster than the law can keep up. A number of privacy groups have recently filed complaints regarding two particular toys (i-Que and My Friend Cayla) in that they “not only capture kids’ voices without adequate notice or permission, but send it to Nuance [the tech company] with few safeguards over how that information is handled.” (see Engadget)

It is important for us to think about the ethics behind all this surveillance and the privacy implications of this technology, rather than just ignoring it and assuming (hoping?) that nothing bad will happen.


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