What Are The Privacy Implications Of The Internet Of Things?

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Keytree’s Will Powell warns that the Internet of Things may well be putting privacy at risk unless properly protected

The link between the Internet of Things (IOT) and privacy is worthy of consideration. IOT is a double edged sword when looking at its benefits versus the level of data that is collected, and therefore its potential for encroaching on privacy. A few considerations are central to the debate.

Firstly unknowing privacy infringement using technology is not a new thing. The rise of the social networks (and primarily Facebook) marked the first time that individuals started happily handing over data. Photos, comments, their location and data about their personal lives, is now willingly offered up for sharing, but it’s astonishing how few Facebook users realise the network is really only after their data and keeping them on the to deliver increasing amounts of targeted advertising.

invasion of privacySocial networks require an ongoing choice to share your data, but you can easily stop doing it. An Internet of Things technology will share it’s data from the moment that it is installed to the moment the consumer decommissions it, however. This ‘single moment of choice’ differs from the social approach because a consumer takes a single decision to install the device, giving the manufacturer indefinite data capturing capabilities until there is an active choice to remove it.

IOT devices have the power to collect any and all data available, but end users don’t get to see, limit or restrict the raw data being collected. We only see the results of what the manufacturer gives us, so we are essentially removed from the data. It is worth considering what else IOT devices could be tracking and storing that we cannot see but have implicitly agreed to, in owning and installing a device. For instance with the connected car the consumer enjoys the benefit of knowing their car’s location through GPS, but the data miners know everywhere you have been and how fast you have been travelling, even though this data is not made visible to the consumer.

internet of things cloudSecondly IOT is about the benefit outweighing the negatives. Whilst it has become more prolific within the enterprise space, the consumer benefits through an improved experience such as the access to the information on the location of your cab or online shopping delivery.

It’s also worth considering the commonly cited example of asking someone, “Would you put a medical tracker inside your body that fed data out and you tracked your vitals?” The answer would likely be a firm “no”. But what if we added the benefit that machines monitoring this data could potentially extend your life by up to five years?

A third consideration is that the data collected from smart devices may already be captured by existing methods, but IOT can provide a more complete picture. For instance, with an online supermarket shopping experience the baskets are being logged and tracked so the supermarket is aware of what you buy, but only from them. In other words the supermarket only has insight into their relationship with you and would be unaware of purchases from a difference source. With an IOT connected fridge, the application can track exactly what you have in the fridge regardless of where it came from so IOT can track that which products you buy across multiple sources.

When using iPlayer or any other catch up TV service, you are being logged to see what similar shows you watch and how long you are engage with them, what device you’re using and where you’re located; So the difference with IOT is that technology is monitoring from the other side – i.e inside the home. Here we are giving computers the ability to understand what is going on in the world and giving them the ability to control devices through the IoT. Instead of using machines for an enhanced experience, the machines are essentially monitoring us to provide them.

Overall the key area that is missing is education. In the UK currently there are numerous initiatives to teach students to program. As part of this, we need to consider delivering education about data privacy and what is connected. This should include the basics of how content we create online flows in various directions and how the devices we rely on such as smart phones and IOT home devices actually work.

Such education would enable consumers to cut through the marketing and realise the dynamics of what is happening underneath the surface layers of modern technology.

It’s ultimately its our choice to bring devices into the home and with the right level of education we would be better placed to avoid or limit the areas we are prepared to share with the surveillance capitalism culture that is rapidly approaching.

Will Powell is head of innovation at Keytree

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