Is IoT Data Collection Invading Privacy?

By CIOReview | Tuesday, August 16, 2016
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The IoT has enormously elevated our knack to sense, collect, analyze, and operate upon incredible amounts of data. It has profoundly altered use cases for versatile technologies that overstate our efficiencies and conveniences. These technologies have bred a unique alliance between people and machines that was beyond belief a few decades ago. Advances in IoT are making unparalleled strides of progress within the fields of mathematics, science, engineering, and technology.

Domains like robotics, mechanical engineering, manufacturing process control, and artificial intelligence have matured and flourished, due to the development of artificial sensory processors, haptic sensors, and sophisticated mechanical actuators. IoT has also touched upon areas like healthcare, environmental and ecological science, and neuroscience. For instance, the fitness trackers that collect health data like heart rate, calorie loss, and amount of physical activity and feed it back to the manufacturer. They analyze the collected information and update the user about fitness and improvements to be made in daily routine.

Similarly, we see sensors for everything from public transport to parking meters, vending machines, medical devices, energy meters, and home security. This intense network of IoT is pumping zettabytes of data, flowing from devices to manufacturers and third party service providers. This data is comprised of many personal details and particulars and if disclosed to vulnerable entities, can influence the individual’s futurity in many disruptive ways.

Users would have always clicked on the ‘I agree’ tab, to accept the long terms of agreement to use a service. But more than half of the consumers are barely knowledgeable about the consequences of these actions. This has led to arguments over privacy issues and considerations over consumer education on data sharing.

Existing Scenario

Fitness wearables enable the manufacturer to accumulate the user’s health record details to provide statistics and tips for improving health. If this data or the entire pool of data comprising all the users details is shared with health insurance providers, they could use it to alter policies in ways that would benefit them and deficit the aid provided by their contract.

Likewise, sensors installed in a smart car, monitor driving and warn the driver in case of recklessness due to quick movements. Such data might be collected by the automobile companies can be delivered to interested parties, who can deny car insurance to people based on this data. Moreover, smart meters inside houses or smart houses can monitor the individual’s movements inside the house based on energy consumption patterns, which is an absolute encroachment of privacy.

Such scenarios are intimidating and there already are a few signs which can run a chill through the spine. Smart TVs have been found to collect more than a good deal of data about consumer’s viewing habits and files. And surprisingly, the devices are even found to eavesdrop on conversations which are beamed back to the manufacturer.

The proliferation of accurate and precise location data is also a prominent subject of concern as mobile devices travel with people at all times and have the potential to reveal details of the person’s activity. This data can be used to make employment, insurance, and credit decisions with the help of heat mapping and pre-computed algorithms that analyze the individual’s activities and habits. Since IoT device manufacturers and their platform always stand as the first party to have access to user data, it would not be considered under existing consumer protection acts and regulations.

This vast multitude of data has monetary value, which makes it important for manufacturing companies and service providers. Lately, IoT influenced products are found to be very inexpensive, as the major part of a company’s business model is to collect the data and resell it. The sensor packed smart gadget or wearable device is not the real product but, the consumers are.

Empowering Users

The question is how can users be empowered and given control over their data. Apart from public places and transportation systems where sensors are installed, private companies can provide a notice or an exposition regarding the data sharing policies. It can include information about the duration of data being stored and the list of companies that the manufacture will share the data with. People should be empowered to set policies governing communication of personal devices, and the data being shared.

While the Federal Trade Commission in the U.S. has proposed a federal law that governs data privacy, the same government has entities that might be snooping around people’s privacy in the name of surveillance under national security. Meanwhile, it is up to the companies to resolve how they want to secure the data and privacy of users. With the surge of IoT, let’s hope that companies act soon before they trample consumers and their data privacy.

If approaching laws and regulations manage to secure data privacy, the world might see a future where IoT will be a perfect blend of people interacting with machines, turning vulnerabilities into opportunities for innovation and standardization.