With Each Benefit Comes A Risk

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With 2014 being dubbed as the year of the ´Internet of Things´ (IoT), what are your major concerns regarding the security & privacy issues that consumers face now, and potential problems they could have in the future?

To level-set, the term Internet of Things (IoT) basically is the term used for the concept of having communications occurring not just online, on the Internet, but also implicitly through basic daily activities via our growing types of digital devices, now becoming increasingly more pervasive throughout our everyday life activities.

Data from drones, surveillance cameras, mobile apps, geo-location monitors, wearable devices, electric vehicles, smart appliances and other data generation/collection technologies will be fed into the Internet of Things, massaged by Big Data analytics, and be used to establish accurate biographies on demand of each tech-using individual’s life. Such individual life data will be used by more marketing companies, tech companies, insurance companies, retailers, government agencies, etc., in ways that will make the 2013 NSA surveillance revelations pale in comparison.  The lawmakers will only see the need to control the (mis)use of data after many bad things have happened, and revolts have occurred.

The potential uses of data gadgets within the IoT are unlimited, as are the benefits. However, with each benefit comes a risk.  And, what multiplies the risks are all the data that is created that have never existed before, and the new ways in which that data is used.  Just a few years ago no one was too concerned about being able to correlate meaningful information about individuals within vast repositories made up of zetabytes of information.   One of the things that concerns me is how big data analytics, the capabilities of which are increasing just as fast as more zetabytes of data is being created, can be used to take humongous amounts of data and reveal intimate personal information facts about individuals. With no restrictions on the use of big data analytics with data collected through the IoT, we will see privacy problems, and new types of privacy breaches, as a result.

Consider how the possibilities could, and may already have, become realities:

– Devices are being built that include sensors and wireless chips within strap-on boxes and cameras mounted within the sports team player helmets. These are connected via Wi-Fi chips to remote computers.  Analysts are describing[1] how such technologies can live stream the players’ vitals online for the coach to see to make decisions regarding players, strategy, etc. Or, such images and data can be streamed to an online site for the entire world to see as they are playing to give viewers not only a player’s immediate perspective of the game, but also to see how the players’ bodies are handling the physical stress of the sport.

– Smartphones are being enabled to become user-friendly interfaces for remotely controlling and configuring building thermostats.  These can also serve as a geo-location app for heating; able to detect where you are located in the house and then adjust the temperature accordingly.  Related to this, smart light bulbs now exist[2] that is controlled by a smartphone. You can dim the lights, change the colors, get notifications when the bulb needs maintenance, use as a nightlight, sync them to music, and control them remotely. (I want to play around with one of these!)

– A smart refrigerator communicating throughout the IoT will now be able to communicate with many other entities, such as 1) the grocery store to order specific food products, 2) notify the appliance vendor of how efficiently the refrigerator is working, and 3) communicate to the electric utility so they can determine energy efficiency.  Is this happening today? I don’t know. Perhaps. Will we see this happening if it is not yet? Certainly!

Are the life enhancing possibilities of the IoT, empowered by Big Data analytics exciting? Certainly! But do those possibilities bring with them some significant privacy risks and security/safety issues? Oh, my, most definitely!

Rebecca Herold | The Privacy Professor | @PrivacyProf

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