Technology sometimes needs to reach a tipping point before governmental regulation catches up. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is trying to get ahead of the curve by issuing a privacy and security report on the Internet of Things (IoT), presented as a series of recommendations for makers of connected devices. The FTC wants to minimize security and privacy risks by reducing the amount of data that these devices collect, and making sure that these devices, or their makers, clearly indicate to users the amount and sort of data they’ll collect. Thinkers, designers, and manufacturers continue to find new uses and potential for the IoT. In the future, our cars, home appliances, phones, watches, entertainment, and much more will likely all be connected. The report singles out health care as a potential beneficiary. Pacemakers, insulin pumps, and other life-saving devices connecting to the IoT could provide health care professionals with real-time updates about their users’ medical condition. Big Data, Big Risks No one questions this potential, but enabling and unlocking it requires sharing lots of data among these devices. The report estimates that, today, there are 25 million Internet-connected devices, and that number could rise to 50 billion by 2020. By that same year, the FTC believes 90 percent of cars could have Internet connections. By 2018, the report says, mobile devices could generate 15 exabytes bytes of worldwide data traffic per month. Because big numbers require context: that amount of data translates into roughly 750,000 years of DVD-quality video. Even that example is hard to fathom—it’s a lot of data. Any device that transmits data may be tracked, any data transmitted may be intercepted, any device that stores data may be hacked, and even data collected legitimately may open up unintended consequences. To minimize these possibilities, the FTC recommends four options: no data collection, collection of no more data than is required for device functionality, collection only of less important data, or removal of user identity from collected data. Minimizing Risk While Maximizing Benefit Even some who participated in the creation of the report worry that “data minimization” could limit the potential benefit of new technologies, as companies might not be able to anticipate which data will provide the most—or unexpected—benefits. Others questioned whether users will actually use devices that require lengthy initial or frequent consent, hindering adoption of IoT devices. The report’s discussions of data security are less interesting than its discussions of which data should be collected. The FTC recommends and assumes that companies will implement responsible security standards in line with existing industry best practices. But it makes the valid point that data that’s not collected can’t be at risk. Furthermore, it takes surprisingly few data points to identify individuals, even when the identifying data has been removed. The Commission also recognizes that, in some cases, providing notification and requiring user consent about collected data is unnecessary, depending on the context—whether consumers should reasonably expect that data to be collected. To use the earlier pacemaker example — reasonable people would expect their pacemaker to report things like heart rate, so that kind of data collection should require no consent. However, data from a car that reports how often its driver goes through the fast food drive-through could be used to increase health insurance rates. Because users might not expect that kind of data sharing, the FTC believes it should require notification and authorization. User Experience One problem with this theory is that some devices, like pacemakers, don’t have a user interface that can inform the user about what data it collects and who it shares that data with. Some devices, like cars, do have suitable interfaces, but using it while driving could pose its own danger. The FTC report recognizes these challenges and offers suggestions, including QR codes, point-of-purchase disclosure, video tutorials, and other alternate methods of creating awareness. It’s Not Law—For Now For the time being, the FTC says its recommendations are just that. However, the same report recommends that Congress endorse online privacy practices, and President Obama’s push for the same, so device makers would be wise to assume that these recommendations could someday become law. Photo Credit: Elif Ayiter/Flikr The Internet of Things (IoT) brought with it an endless array of opportunities to help make our lives easier by connecting everyday objects to the Internet, sometimes making them seemingly self-reliant. There are great innovations on the horizon and some already here. Then there are others, whether just in ideation or already manufactured, will leave you scratching your head. Food that Cooks Itself We’re constantly on the go these days and between work, yoga classes, doctor’s appointments, and getting the kids off to school, who has time to cook? New restaurants pop up on a daily basis and there are even delivery services that will pick up your food from a restaurant and deliver it to your door for you. We might as well just invent technology that can cook dinner for us, and it seems that some people are already on top of this. For starters, the Crock-Pot WeMo Smart Slow Cooker is a fun new invention. This thing allows you to monitor and adjust cooking times from your smartphone. You can literally cook pot roast while you’re at work. Why stop there, though? Personally, my biggest problem is cooking on the grill. Having one of those that can tell exactly how long to cook your meat to get it just the right amount of medium would sure make family BBQs a little easier. Well, it turns out, that one’s coming too. You’ll be able to fix dinner with voice commands soon enough. Making the Roads Safer One of the biggest devices IoT developers are going to look to down the road will be vehicles. Imagine a world in which congestion, traffic and wrecks can all be avoided because the cars on the road can all talk to each other. It looks like something that many people are already putting some thought into. They’ve already got something similar for cyclists with the ICEdot Crash Sensor. Sensors in both cars and roads would communicate traffic problems, could possibly brake the car in case of an emergency and maybe even drive the car without any assistance from us at all. It sounds like something out of a Sci-Fi film, but it may not be as far away as we think. Healthy Vanity With the influx of Instagram, selfies and Snapchat invading the Internet it’s not like we really need more reasons to stare at ourselves, but this one might make it worth the extra shot of vanity. The Cybertecture Mirror has been around a few years now, but it doesn’t have a wide release into homes across the country. The mirror essentially monitors your heart rate and can tell you if you’re about to have any problems just by looking into it. It picks out the light pattern of your heart rate (how your heart rate affects your blood pattern and pulse) and is able to determine your overall health. Imagine if this thing were hooked up to the Internet a little further. It could potentially become an in-home doctor. Integrating technology that could monitor not only your heart, but test your sight, breathing and hearing could clue you in to any array of potential problems that might need attention. The Internet of Things Could Literally Be Your New Friend We’ve been talking about it for what seems like forever, but it looks like robots capable of “thinking” and interacting with us are finally here. Case in point is Jibo, the World’s First Family Robot. Jibo is an artificially intelligent Internet-connected robot that can see, hear and learn. He acts as a maid, helps the kids with homework and even provides modicum of security for your home. That’s only the beginning. Jibo is sort of an all-in-one appliance that also serves as a camera that recognizes when you’re posing for a shot, a messenger that can also recognize your family members’ faces and a phone that provides video calling. If he weren’t so tiny he might be creepy. If we’re already at the point of developing something like Jibo, how long until we have appliances that do all of the cooking and baking for us, mops and vacuums that know when to clean up themselves or, and this would be awesome, maybe leashes that can walk the dog for you? The IoT opens the doors for a whole new world of at-home appliances designed to give us the freedom to use more of our day doing what we love. Photo By Keoni Cabral/Flikr
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