IoT and Personal Data Privacy

The subject of personal information privacy has been a major topic of discussion, even before the Snowden revelations on how the NSA has been collecting data on the US population and the complicity of several information and network service providers. The policies of Government will be debated forever, but at least there is some transparency there. Businesses, on the other hand, publish privacy policies about what they do with the information they collect, with vague references to sharing this non-personal data with 3rd parties, the meaning of which is lost in the legalese.

Information is shared and sold because it has value; especially about what it is you might want to buy, your hobbies, what you do in your alone time, how happy your marriage is, or if you’re looking for a spouse…the list is nearly endless. People willingly participate to a large degree because there is some benefit or convenience in doing so.  When you make a search on Google for a product or service, you give up who you are and what you’re looking for. You expect that information to be shared and you expect to see advertisements for similar products or services pushed at you wherever you go from there. That’s the game and that’s OK because it’s understood; you gave something up to get something in return. I have a big problem however, giving up personal information when I didn’t agree to, I didn’t realize I’d agreed to it, or it’s being done without my knowledge. According to a Pew Research study, most Americans share this same concern.

There is a virtual tsunami of IoT Smart Home networked devices on the market now, most analysists believe it’s just the beginning of the trend. Smart thermostats, garage door openers, smoke detectors, smart TV’s, IP cameras, even your DVR can collect and report bits and pieces of information about you. Looked at individually, this data is not meaningful, but when rolled together with aggregate data collection/Data Brokers and Consumer Data Companies, what can be deduced about individuals is profound.  Crunching the big data with contemporary analytics is analogous to determining it was Colonel Mustard in the dining room with the candlestick who done it.

If devices can communicate, you must assume they will. They can be as obvious as Amazon’s Echo, (Alexa), or as out-of-the-blue as a sex toy (I kid you not – We-Vibe Rave). IoT devices with integrated cameras and microphones have the potential to be the most insidious data collection and reporting devices of all. This includes smartphones, laptops, smart TV’s, and gaming consoles. The fact that people who really understand the issue; like James Comey, Director of the FBI, and Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, cover the cameras on their devices, illustrate how real these issues are. These concerns have been about legitimate companies; illegitimate enterprises and hackers bring a whole new dimension of issues to the table.

What to do? The best option is to live in a primitive cabin in the woods, but the more realistic approach to the problem is to simply BE AWARE.

 

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