The term “Internet of Things” goes all the way back to 1999 when British entrepreneur Kevin Ashton first used it to refer to objects identified by radio frequency. It was redefined in 2013 to mean “the infrastructure of the information society.” With more and more devices incorporating internet into their design, the term has become something of a buzzword, a way to refer to a network of connected appliances which eventually will have the ability to communicate automatically and share information about us.
Some parts of the Internet of Things (IoT) already exist. More and more household appliances like thermostats, microwaves and televisions are becoming internet connected. Fitness programs now share stats online. This type of technology is expected to become even more widespread, more automatic, and more all-pervasive in the future. Different estimates have forecast between twenty-six and fifty billion internet enabled devices by 2020.
Being connected has pros and cons
There are many advantages to the IoT. Smart energy-grids can monitor and adjust temperature and power use in a home; they can be accessed from a cell phone or a tablet, making it much easier to track energy use over the course of a day. Another example is the new Dash button on Amazon which allows consumers to order products with the push of a button. It’s likely that in the future this service could bypass human input altogether so that smart-appliances can automatically order whatever supplies you need in your home.
But the problem with internet access is that it brings with it a host of new issues related to privacy and security. Any data stored online is potentially accessible to companies and individuals who want to use this information for their own purposes. The IoT can have far-reaching consequences for reputation, both on and offline, which makes it a big concern for us and our clients at ReputationDefender.
Everything we do could be shared online
In the future, smart sensors in a car could measure driving habits, record the amount of gas you use and even track what radio stations you listen to. Internet connected home-appliances could broadcast cooking and laundry habits and record what time you get up and go the bed. None of these details might seem especially important, but put together, this information can say a lot about an individual’s private life.
At the very least, the IoT will increase the sophistication and amount of information collected for advertising and research. However it can have even more negative consequences if data is made public with the intent to harm or damage a reputation. Any internet connected device is also vulnerable to outside control via hacking, creating an entirely new market for criminal activity on the internet.
Making the Internet of Things accountable
Attempts have been made to regulate and standardize the IoT, but none are fully successful. The IUT, the information and technology branch of the United Nations, launched the Global Standards Initiative to study the application of the internet of things. This effort was renamed Study Group 20 in 2015. SG20 is focused on developing international standards in relation to the IoT.
The Federal Trade Organization has made an attempt to prosecute companies that provide false privacy claims, specifically a 2012 suit against Trendnet for internet connected video cameras that ended up exposing users’ private feeds. However when it comes to privacy violations that are not misrepresented the FTO lacks authority since different standards apply in different countries. Basic privacy legislation exists in the UK and Canada, but protections have yet to be applied internationally and could be limited in some cases.
Other types of regulation
Private organizations have also explored options for individuals that want to retain control of their data. IoT Council, a loosely knit group of professional consultants, offers guidance in this area. Director, Rob van Kranenburg, suggests we should “steer” IoT development to “harness” the benefits of big data in a useful way, for both individuals and companies. Thingful is a “search engine” that “categorizes” and “documents” IoT devices. Its founder, Usman Haque, believes individuals have the right to decide what information is shared about them.
Both Kranenburg and Haque are currently pioneering a new device called the Dowse Box which would make this easier by plugging into the home network and monitoring what data is being broadcast. The Dowse would let owners know right away if information is being sent to a utility company or elsewhere and give them the option to stop it.
There’s a high financial incentive for companies to collect data; in many cases this is even built in to the product price. Moving forward, some companies may start offering privacy protection in return for a small fee while others may offer rewards and even money for data sharing.
Taking control of your own data
As the Internet of Things continues to grow, it’s important that individuals retain anonymity online. Choosing options not to share data can be extremely important even if this means paying a fee or a higher price. With any new product, it’s best to consider the value of an internet connection. Are the advantageous of being connected worth the risk that recognizable information will be leaked? The choice is always up to the individual, but at ReputationDefender® we recommend caution. Most online information is available to someone who wants to find it and many factors may make it more recognizable than you think.