The Internet of Things is a big deal

Today, the FTC holds hearings on the data smart devices collect about us. Time to stand up for our privacy rights now, before it's too late.

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Hear that? It’s the sound of all our smart devices, chattering away to each other just below the threshold of consciousness.

As I walk between my desk and the snack machine (for the second time this morning), the Jawbone Up on my wrist is quietly counting my footsteps, the better to chide me later for not getting enough exercise. At home, my Nest Thermometer is monitoring my movements and learning my habits to ensure I don’t waste electricity and money heating an empty house.

My Vivant home security system is making sure the doors and windows are locked and sending me text alerts when they are not. Strategically placed Web cams let me see when the kids have arrived home and if they’ve brought any friends with them (a fact that truly annoys them, much to my delight).

An Audiovox Car Connection gizmo in our old beater minivan lets me know when my son has left home and arrives at school, as well as where else he’s been and how well he’s been driving.

These are all part of the Internet of Things, and if you haven’t heard that phrase before, you will hear it ad nauseam in the years to come. As more devices become smart and connected, just about everything you use will become a part of it. 

Today, as I type this, the FTC is holding a day long session on the IoT and its implications for privacy and security, of which there are many. If I happened to live near DC, I’d be there right now.

In one sense, these are the same issues raised by any type of data collection: Who controls this data? How can we keep it secure? What could happen if it leaks? But the Internet of Things is both much larger and much more personal.

Data be the day

To be sure, the data my various devices are collecting about me and my family are for beneficial purposes. But that won’t necessarily always be the case. For example:

* The Jawbone Up could share information with my health insurance carrier, which could raise my rates if I don’t hit my daily 10,000-step quota for a week.

* The Nest could alert the local authorities if I am using an usual amount of electricity for a single family dwelling. Maybe there’s a drug factory in the basement.

* If Audiovox can track my son’s location, as well as a history of his locations over time, so can anyone else who has access to that data. And location data, as I’ve written before, can unlock a trove of other information about you – your political opinions, your drug habits, your sexual proclivities, etc.

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