In a 2019 article by tech publication Wired Magazine, a CIA veteran made a chilling assertion: Facebook knows more about us than his old agency.
For anyone who’s been paying attention, this should come as no great surprise. Social media has always played fast and loose with user data, while the marketing and advertising space is ever hungry for any information that will allow better content targeting. Never mind the fact that, as noted by data-driven publisher Visual Capitalist, Google knows almost everything about you.
It knows what you watch on YouTube. It knows what locations you’ve visited, who you talk to, and what you talk to them about. If you use its services or web browser, it might even know your schedule, your browsing history, and even how you look and sound if you use Google Assistant or facial recognition.
Analytics Company Data
And that’s just based on raw data. Through analytics, the company is more than capable of determining a wide range of intimate details, including:
- Your political beliefs
- Your dietary restrictions
- Your marital status
- Your income level
- Where you live
Feeling a bit uncomfortable yet? Because it’s going to get a whole lot worse before it gets better. Enter the Internet of Things.
We stand at the edge of a future defined by Internet connectivity. A future where everything from appliances and thermostats to light bulbs and entertainment systems are brought online. A future which, if left unchecked, could actually spell the end of privacy.
Data Taken By Marketing Agency
Imagine, if you would, a world where a marketing agency (or any other company, for that matter) could know, at a glance:
- The contents of your fridge
- The last show you watched on Netflix
- The last game you played online
- Every single website you visited
- What you had for dinner last night
- What time you ate breakfast
- When you last showered
- Who you last talked to in person, and what you discussed
You get the idea. Thanks to IoT, a business could learn everything about the people who use its products. To say that this is a bit troubling would be putting it lightly.
Especially given that all of these privacy issues are layered atop the still glaring cybersecurity problems of connected endpoints.
Unfortunately, we need to face facts — connected devices are not going anywhere anytime soon. They’re simply too convenient. Too interesting and efficient and honestly downright cool.
So what can we do, exactly? Are we to just wait and hope that the people who gain a window into our lives don’t use the information they gather for ill? That the vendors we purchase our IoT devices from are competent enough to protect our data?
Yes and no.
If we look at the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), it’s clear that there are at least some governments that understand the importance of giving people ownership of their data and their privacy. And given the fact that other countries are gradually following the EU’s example, it seems only a matter of time before most places have better, more robust privacy legislation. Legislation which could, with a few tweaks, be applied to IoT just as any other service.
In the meantime, though?
- Dig through the user settings of each connected device in your home. There should be a section on security and privacy that allows you to dictate how data is collected and used.
- Make sure you aren’t using default credentials on any of your connected devices.
- Make sure your connected devices are on a different wireless network from your PC.
- Never skip firmware updates.
- Do your research before purchasing a device from a new or unknown vendor.
It needs to be said that I don’t think IoT is a bad thing. I think it’s absolutely wonderful and has already changed how we live and work in some very real, very important ways. At the same time, we cannot ignore the risks that go hand-in-hand with hyperconnectivity.
We cannot let our excitement over new technology blind us to the fact that, at the time of writing, the Internet of Things is a privacy and cybersecurity nightmare.
About the Author
Tim Mullahy is the Executive Vice President and Managing Director at Liberty Center One, a new breed of data center located in Royal Oak, MI. Tim has a demonstrated history of working in the information technology and services industry.