Technology advancements do not have to be risky. It is upon consumers to demand that their privacy and security be protected.
Imagine a world where you are connected to anything and everything you want whenever you want. Imagine a world where you don’t even have to think about what you want because the Internet of Things (IoT) is out there ready to think for you.
Today, the proponents of having a society where everyone is connected to everything, all the time, are the convenience and continuous connectivity which will allegedly make your life easier and more pleasant.
The details that those proponents usually leave out are security and privacy, and when they do bring them up for discussion they are rapidly dismissed as unimportant or something that will somehow solve itself.
In fact, the only impediment that proponents of the IoT see as an obstacle to its complete takeover is price. They highlight how hardware used to keep us connected nowadays is cool and innovative, but also how people refuse to pay for their high prices.
Being part of the IoT is being paraded as the next trendy thing. “People are connecting with products and services these days not just for what they do, but for what they say about them. Technology is becoming as much about personal identity as it is about hardware and silicon,” says Christopher Caen.
According to Caen, at some point in time, convenience and utility will overcome price. He says that price concerns “do not take into account convenience, value, or most importantly the power of identity.”
He is right. Many people buy things not because they need them or because they are cheap, but because it is trendy to own them. There are a number of examples we can cite: smartphones, headphones, cars, clothing and more. So those who seek to impose total control over the population can count on the ignorance and hollowness of a great majority of zombies who will do anything to get the latest gadget to show off their trendiness.
The commercial pitch used by lovers of the IoT is, as Caen points out, “all this fabulous hardware will be centered on you, your data, and your identity.” If you think that selfies are a sign of egocentrism, arrogance and so on, just wait until millions of trendies realize that there is a new nirvana out there waiting for them. According to Caen, it is all about technology being able to smell us, sense us and doing everything we find pleasurable. It is a technological orgasm every single time.
What about Security and Privacy?
While the trendies and tech crazies salivate as they wait for their car to greet them every time they enter it, tell them what is the right temperature for the cabin or how fast they should drive, people who still want to have complete command of their lives are concerned about two aspects that are real issues when it comes to the IoT.
Lack of security and violations of privacy are two very real facts that stop people from stepping onto the IoT gravy train.
“Household devices have led the charge with smart thermostats, refrigerators, and washing machines. We have seen security devices like home security cameras and baby monitors, and health devices like insulin pumps and pacemakers. And we all know about wearables like fitness trackers and watches,” explains Cate Lawrence.
All of the devices cited above have been proven to be unsafe. Some of them have been hacked and in the case of wearables, they have been found to “share” personal information with their manufacturers without the consent of people who wear them.
According to Lawrence, “there’s been a number of reported cases of parents discovering hackers watching and talking to their children at night.” In New York, the Department of Consumer Affairs investigated the lack of security of baby monitors. It issued subpoenas to four manufacturers of baby video monitors and the Federal Trade Commission issuing warnings about breaches in security for these devices.
“There are plenty of devices without cameras that are vulnerable to attack. From the Toyota Prius to insulin pumps to wifi kettles. Some are hacked as demonstrations into the ability to do so rather than with malice, but it’s still sobering stuff,” reveals Lawrence.
Drones, the unmanned aerial vehicles, used both for recreational and military purposes, have been hacked. What else do people who dismiss security and privacy concerns need as proof to provide an adequate forum for discussion? “It’s not unreasonable to believe that a person who buys a connected device and utilizes it according to the manufacturer’s instructions has a right to privacy, security and a relatively hack-free existence,” insists Lawrence.
While most trendies concentrate their attention on the convenience and status update that they will gain by owning a device connected to the IoT, they are completely oblivious to the lack of security and privacy. Not even the existence of legislation that asks manufacturers to create devices with a guarantee of security and privacy has been enough to make both issues relevant. A report published by the Federal Trade Commission in 2015 already asks that manufacturers provide the minimum security and privacy to users:
- build security into devices at the outset, rather than as an afterthought in the design process;
- when a security risk is identified, consider a “defense-in-depth” strategy whereby multiple layers of security may be used to defend against a particular risk;
- consider measures to keep unauthorized users from accessing a consumer’s device, data, or personal information stored on the network;
- monitor connected devices throughout their expected life cycle, and where feasible, provide security patches to cover known risks.
Lawrence provides a clear example of manufacturer negligence, to say the least, when it comes to respect for privacy and lack of security:
“The FTC filed a complaint against security camera maker TrendNet for allegedly misrepresenting its software as “secure.” In its complaint, the Commission alleged, among other things, that the company transmitted user login credentials in clear text over the Internet, stored login credentials in clear text on users’ mobile devices, and failed to test consumers’ privacy settings to ensure that video feeds marked as “private” would in fact be private.”
In the case of TrendNet, hackers were successful in accessing the devices to take over live feeds as well as private surveillance cameras kept up by individuals in their homes.
Perhaps, something worse than lack of rules for manufacturers is government intervention to decide what is safe enough and what is not. The Security and Privacy in Your Car (SPY Car) Act, enables government to set standards, via a rating system, about how well a car ‘protects passengers’. Legislation such as the Spy Car Act is a step forward to letting artificial intelligence (AI), not a human, decide what is best.
Among many of the recommendations provided in the law are:
- Requirement that all wireless access points in the car are protected against hacking attacks, evaluated using penetration testing;
- Requirement that all collected information is appropriately secured and encrypted to prevent unwanted access; and;
- Requirement that the manufacturer or third-party feature provider be able to detect, report and respond to real-time hacking events.
As of today, no device maker can claim that its products are completely safe from hacking or illegal surveillance, which makes ironic that government asks companies to provide just that.
So, what is the profile of the average user of current forms of IoT technologies?
When interviewed about the role of If This Then That (IFTTT), the popular tool that allows devices to connect to the internet to carry out a simple task, Linden Tibbets, the CEO and co-founder, explained that people who use it generally look for creative ways to control their devices and to have the ability to adapt their environment to their needs.
“Right now, it’s typically someone who’s looking to get something more out of the services they currently have. Folks that have some deep experience with one or two or three individual services, these could be services like Gmail or Google Calendar, Facebook, or perhaps someone who is big into sports and ESPN, or wearables…,” said Tibbets.
When asked about what is the future of IFTTT and other tools as they become part of the IoT, Tibbets explained that the move is towards the so-called SmartHome. “The home is incredibly popular and we’re going to see a ton of connected home channels. We now have over 70 connected-home channels, but we are going to see that number explode… The home is just a small piece of the general excitement around the Internet of Things,” he confesses.
A home that is connected to the internet via sensors or appliances on a 24/7 basis is the perfect instance for both malicious hackers and government agencies with unlimited power to keep an eye on everyone who decides to adopt the IoT as the future of life and society. Tibbets explained that his company’s goal is “enabling seamless experiences for consumers”.
Make no mistake, being connected to the internet all day to access anything you want when you want it is beyond convenient; it is a dream for anyone who is hooked up to technology. However, those who seek to live the rest of their lives connected to the IoT, or whatever else manufacturers come up with in the future needs to understand that there is no need to give up privacy or security in exchange for convenience, comfort or continuous connectivity.
Technology advancements do not have to be risky. It is upon consumers to demand that their privacy and security are protected.
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