Privacy and the Internet of Things: Practical or paranoia?

Internet of Things privacyThe promise of connected homes, cars, wearables and every day conveniences is growing rapidly. Established companies like Cisco Systems Inc., Telus Corp. and Rogers Communications have a great deal to gain as the Internet of Things (IoT) or Machine to Machine (M2M) industry matures. Startup businesses such as FlyBits, Architech and ArrayEnt have thrown in their chips to stake their claim on the IoT industry.

Some of these companies have partnered with household name manufacturers. Together, they have products in the market, and others planned to connect the internet to a broad spectrum of Things, including:

  • Appliances, such as refrigerators, washers, dryers and dishwashers
  • Garage door openers, parking meters and gas pumps
  • Children’s toys – Barbie has a LinkedIn profile, where does it go from there?
  • Commercial building security, electrical systems and manufacturing systems
  • Cars, clothing, watches, pet feeders and fitness bands
  • Several other industrial, mining, and natural resources monitoring systems

The IoT and information privacy

Considering the sensitivity of the data which travels from the “Things” across the Internet, many experts and consumers are expressing concern about privacy and security related to the IoT. It may not seem a big deal to let a retailer know that you have beer and wine in your fridge along with your eggs and milk, but how might this information be used if it gets into the wrong hands?

When information related to where you drive your car, the speed you drove there, and who was in the car with you can be transmitted by your vehicle, your privacy can be compromised.

Children’s toys connecting to the Internet isn’t that new, but the amount of shared, sensitive information is.

How often have you had a message come up on your screen about information privacy when you wanted to start using an app? You zip to the bottom without reading, click OK and move on. It might have been a console game or a downloaded movie, but experts say the concern about M2M information exchange is not only about what might happen if it is hacked: It also puts into question what might be done with this information by the companies collecting it.

M2M and personally identifiable data

If you are running or exercising with an exercise band recording your blood pressure, pulse rate, running speed, endurance and other fitness data, your intention is likely to ensure you are progressing in your fitness regimen. Likely you’ll want to send the data to a physician or personal trainer. When this data is stored however, security and privacy analysts are recommending this data be encrypted or stored without personal identification. Consider Google Glass — you can transmit elements of your environment to Google or other companies you agree to surrender your privacy to.

Cisco Canada estimates that by 2020, 50 billion devices will be connected to the internet. If you are away on vacation, data drop in your consumption of hydro and home heating could be abused if it gets into the wrong hands. Device manufacturers, public utilities, internet service providers and software vendors are all investigating ways to ramp up security on the endpoints and network elements of M2M.

Costs and potential benefits

If you buy a car with telematics technology, you could ultimately share your driving behaviour with your insurance company. It could also be used as part of a police report in case of an accident. This could be a cost saver or detriment depending on your driving habits. With an internet connected fridge, you can see how much energy your appliance is using or produce the ice you need for a party. You can also train advertisers what products to recommend to you based on your activities.

What do you think? Are privacy and security concerns about the Internet of things practical thinking, or unjustified paranoia?

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada
Mark Burdon
Mark Burdon
Mark Burdon is a technology professional based in Barrie, Ontario. He has worked in sales and marketing for companies including IBM, Rogers, Open Text and gShift. Mark has provided B2B content marketing services to companies including Intuit, Welcome Networks, and Startup Canada. He is a freelance writer with Cloudworker Solutions.

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