Waking up for the workday, you walk into the kitchen to see a fresh cup of coffee that has been programmed to brew based on your phone’s alarm clock. Your MP3 player automatically starts playing some smooth jazz, after having learned that when you wake up this early, you typically play that type of music. Your fridge sends you a notification that you are out of milk and that your daily water consumption has increased. Sitting in your self-driving car, which is already pre-programmed to get you to work as it has synced with your calendar, you realize you forgot to lock the doors. Don’t worry – Smart Locks have detected a lack of movement in your home and locked the doors for you after having turned down the thermostat automatically to save energy.
While this may seem like a scene from “The Jetsons,” this is actually a snapshot of already-existing technology that is part of the Internet of Things (IoT), a network of objects containing a series of sensors, software, and other electronics that allow it to collect, process, and share data with businesses, consumers, or other devices. This collecting of huge amounts of data presents an enormous opportunity for retailers and a source of alarm for privacy advocates. For example, if your fridge senses an increase in water consumption and your scale simultaneously senses a decrease in weight, could these devices ever “talk” to each other and signal to you that you might want to see a doctor for a checkup? Who knows? But, one thing is for sure: insurance companies, marketers, and others would pay huge sums of money to identify who is – or may soon be – suffering from various health issues.
Also, this onslaught of new technology brings a slew of new problems, particularly in the area of data collection and privacy. For instance, the VMob App is a program used by retailers and consumers in which in-store sensors sync with a consumer’s smartphone; the sensors can track a shopper’s path throughout a store, collecting and sharing information pertaining to shopper behavioral patterns. While owning the VMob App is necessary for shoppers to be impacted, who is to say that there won’t someday exist technology that locates any shopper with a smartphone, regardless of whether the shopper has an app? The biggest concern right now is that people are generally unaware (and perhaps caring) of the vast amount of data being routinely collected about them.
Even more, due to the faulty nature of newly-released technology, hackers are finding it easier than ever to collect user data. A recent study by HP revealed that over 70% of the most common IoT devices use an unencrypted network service, making them vulnerable to attack by hackers. There are many instances in which this could pose a serious problem, like with a popular electronic transit ticketing system in England. Data collected from this system helps identify customers who use specific routes or stations, sending them service changes, delays, and train locations. However, what if a hacker determines what time a passenger is most likely not going to be home based on travel patterns?
Issues and questions such as these have not hampered the explosive growth of the “smart technology” industry, which is expected to be worth over $400 billion by 2020. As the implementation of smart technology in all facets of life appears to be increasing exponentially, adopting IoT devices may prove to be inevitable. This by itself is not negative, for many IoT devices already exist to perform beneficial tasks. However, it is vital to keep in mind that any data provided by consumers and collected by businesses should be of the consumer’s own volition. Consumers have the right to know what and how data is being used, and how companies are making sure that data is secure. Congress and state legislatures are scrambling to keep up with these emerging trends and issues, but it’s up to us to be vigilant in how our personal data is being tracked, stored, and sold. By the time we catch up, it might be too late.