While exact numbers are unknown, estimates are that by 2020, more than 50 billion Internet of Things (IoT) devices will be sending your information and that of other consumers to manufacturers of those devices.
There are many great features offered by IoT technology, but the price for this convenience is the loss of privacy.
When your refrigerator sends you a text that you need milk, that information is also collected by the refrigerator manufacturer. In addition to the text going to the maker, the model, repair history and warranty information is also sent.
Manufacturers claim that this information helps them to plan for their future refrigerator (or toaster, washing machine or smart TV) manufacturing, but they also sell this private information to marketers. So, you might be targeted for advertising for milk products or yogurt or other, related products.
As we move towards a "conscious" home, we are exposing ourselves to ongoing and voluntary surveillance.
Security Issues and The Internet of Things
The data collected by the IoT varies, from an IP address to details about the most intimate things in your life.
Chips inserted into everyday items including home alarm systems, thermostat settings, television shows you watch, radio stations you listen to and more are just some of the ways you are spied on. Items you use, including your car, track your movements, your whereabouts and, most importantly for marketers, your product brand preferences. Apps you use, such as for keeping lists, can track you unless you turn on the privacy settings. Following are three top IoT privacy issues consumers must deal with.
- There is too much data being collected. As early as 2015, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) issued a report called Privacy & Security in a Connected World. The report found that less than 10,000 households have the ability to create 150 million data points daily. Every data point is a way for hackers to access your information and makes even the most sensitive data vulnerable to appropriation.
- Creation of an unwanted public profile was cited in the same FTC report. For example, an insurance company can find out about your driving habits by connecting to your car. One insurance company, Progressive Insurance, actively invites prospective clients to willingly connect their car to the IoT for rate assessment. This information can also be accessed by car makers and sold to insurers, aftermarket parts makers and more.
- Eavesdropping from IoT devices. Those you might never expect to surveil you will do just that. In Germany, researchers succeeded in using a smart electric meter to determine the time and show watched on a TV connected to the electric meter's circuit.
How to Keep Private Matters Private
The first step in protecting your privacy is to read the terms of service for devices and apps. Whenever possible, find out if it is possible to not provide personal information and still use the product for its intended purpose.
- If you think the information being collected is not needed for your product to work (say for advertising purposes), tell the maker you don't want the information used for non-product use purposes (expect a nice email in return and nothing to change). Letting product makers know that an invasion of your privacy is not warranted can help in the long run as more people tell product brands the same thing.
- Create a guest WiFi network that you use exclusively for the IoT and make sure it is encrypted.
- If devices come with a default password, change it to a new unique one.
- Be sure that your home network is secured by passwords, virus protection and firewalls. Passwords should be changed every 30 days using a unique sign-on consisting of numbers, letters and special characters if allowed
- If your privacy outweighs your desire for a certain convenience, try and find a product that isn't "smart."