Think about the devices you own that are collecting data about your activities right now. If you use a fitness tracker on a smartwatch or phone, you are generating a trail of readings. Sensors on your car may be collecting information about when, where and how you’re using it. Smart home components such as smart thermostats or refrigerators are also collecting a stream of information, helping them make intelligent decisions.
These many collection points make up the Internet of Things (IoT), an actionable network of data-utilizing gadgetry that has proven popular on factory floors and in other industrial settings. It is also making its way into the home. The IoT is all about sensors, whether built into products or added after the fact, that turn objects of all kinds into data-gathering machines.
If the idea of all this content swirling around is making you uneasy about privacy and security, you’re not alone. Especially in the wake of the Facebook data controversy, it’s easy to look at a vast data reservoir and wonder what could happen if it sprung a leak.
Data security a big concern
The IoT seems dangerous on a data privacy level for a few related reasons. First, any information gathering creates the possibility of a data breach, one that could expose a large amount of potentially personally identifying information. Furthermore, even companies using the information as intended may lead to research that feels intrusive. Consumers have begun to worry about the implications of the IoT.
An Economist Intelligence Unit survey about the realities of IoT data collection revealed a number of complicating factors about the IoT. First, the chains of custody for data typically involves multiple organizations. It’s hard to track, and even government agencies are having a hard time figuring out how to control and legislate the devices and information in the IoT.
Even consumers who have become skilled at opting out IoT data gathering may still find themselves overwhelmed by the IoT. The automatic collection of information from everyday items represents a new “relationship” between people and the content they generate. Gartner research predicted there will be more than 20 billion consumer products connected to the IoT by 2020.
The Facebook and Cambridge Analytica controversy has proven what companies can do with a database of personal information. The unscrupulous outreach tactics seen in that case could be especially worrisome when used with the constant stream of data generated by IoT devices.
Ulster University professor Kevin Curran told IT Pro there’s a need for further regulation and education around IoT data. The potential for invasion of privacy is an extreme concern. Curran said that the makers of devices are best positioned to make inappropriate use of data and companies may soon be able to perform real-time consumer research. Unless regulators figure out ways to limit the scope of these activities, firms could have a much closer view of consumers’ lives than the studied individuals are willing to give.
Cambridge Analytica’s reckless use of Facebook user data shows the vulnerability of personal information reservoirs. Those data stores seem poised to expand in scope and depth, fueled by streams of content from the IoT. The challenge is clear: Regulators should get control of the dense world of IoT and find ways to help keep consumers’ information confidential.
Data breaches and misuse of personal information are serious matters, now and in the future. Get Identity Guard today to be more aware of potential threats to your personal information.