Privacy In All Things Includes the Internet of Things


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PG_InternetofThingsJust as the Internet has revolutionized the way we communicate with the world in powerful and often unintended ways, the Internet of Things (IoT) is transforming the way the objects of our world communicate with us and each other. As we begin to engage with IoT, let’s continue to champion privacy in all things and not be outsmarted by the latest “smart device.”

Michael Mandel, chief economic strategist of the Progressive Policy Institute describes the Internet of Things as the “extension of the Internet to the physical world.” According to Deepak Kumar, IoT refers to “a collective of Internet-connected consumer devices, manufacturing systems, business tools, customer service appliances, medical equipment, agricultural sensors and other things.”

Public opinion findings from a recent Pew Research Study revealed 83% of respondents felt IoT will have widespread and beneficial effects on the everyday lives of the public. Some of us may find the promise of a new world of IoT innovative and completely comfortable. Others may find the thought of “things” controlling our lives and our every move tracked a bit disheartening, soulless and creepy.

Consumer Concerns about IoT

On the creepy end of the spectrum, there are significant privacy issues to resolve, so much so that recent TRUSTe research suggests privacy concerns could significantly limit the growth of IoT. The research found that 6 out of 10 (59%) of internet users have basic privacy awareness of IoT – they know that smart devices such as smart TVs, fitness devices and in-car navigation systems could collect data about their personal activities. Not surprisingly, users want more information and control

• 85% agreed that they would want to understand more about data being collected before using smart devices

• 88% agreed that they would want to control the data being collected through smart devices before purchasing or using a device

• 83% were concerned about the idea of personal information being collected by smart devices

• 87% are concerned about the type of personal information collected through smart devices

These privacy concerns could be a potential barrier to the growth of the IoT market as only 22% of respondents agreed that the benefits of smart devices outweighed any privacy concerns.

The Wild West of IoT

The data security concerns are real. Here on the frontier of IoT there have already been a few unsettling security breaches. Parents in Ohio woke up to the sound of a stranger saying, “Wake up, baby!” though their baby monitor, and the FTC brought its first IoT case last year, when TRENDnet, a maker of Web-enabled home security cameras, allowed hackers to post video feeds from people’s homes due to lax security practices.

The idea that the objects around you are connected to a network can feel intrusive – especially connected devices in personal spaces like your home or car. Though we may recognize a surveillance camera as a camera, it’s a bit unnerving and our privacy may feel compromised when vending machines and garbage cans begin spying on us. And do we really want targeted digital advertising streaming across every surface in our networked world?

Practical tips for mindful engagement with IoT

We will certainly reap profound benefits and conveniences with the innovative application of IoT. But with a larger network comes greater risk and a greater responsibility to develop our awareness and privacy practice. We shouldn’t allow ourselves to be dazzled by the latest smart device and rush to be an early adopter without first taking the time to review the device’s privacy practices. We should continue to demand transparency and choices about data collection and use with IoT just as with any other technology

Here on some suggestions on how to engage with IoT on your own terms:

1. Make sure you clearly understand the benefits of the particular IoT technology (for example – the device may offer added convenience, efficiency, time or money savings). Determine whether the IoT technology is truly innovative or merely a novelty that may be needlessly collecting your information without providing a beneficial service.

2. What are the trade-offs to your privacy? Consider: What data is collected? For what purpose? How is it shared and used? Who owns the data collected and used by the connected device?

3. What are the data security risks? How will the IoT technology keep your information safe and secure?

4. What are your choices and how do you provide consent? Are you asked to opt-in or must you opt-out to the device tracking and level of connectivity?

5. What type of advertising can you expect to receive if you use the connected device? We must determine for ourselves if the benefits of smart devices outweigh our privacy concerns. For IoT to be sustainable, companies will need humanize the “things” and make them relevant to our lives. IoT technology companies must also assure us that our privacy will be respected.

About the author


Alexandra Ross is the founder of The Privacy Guru ( and Senior Counsel at Paragon Legal. Previously, she managed privacy law and compliance as Associate General Counsel for Wal-Mart Stores, building the retail giant’s privacy policies and procedures from the ground up. She is a certified information privacy professional and practices in San Francisco, California. She holds a law degree from Hastings College of Law and a B.S. in theater from Northwestern University. As The Privacy Guru, Alexandra champions privacy awareness and encourages users to develop a privacy practice so that they can make more mindful choices when they share online. An accomplished writer and engaging speaker, Alexandra brings a unique perspective to the privacy field with fun and accessible presentations, thought-provoking content, and one-on-one consulting services.

You can follow her on Twitter @sharemindfully.

2 Replies to “Privacy In All Things Includes the Internet of Things”

  1. Frank Medeere says:

    The start of your second sentence…”As we being to engage with IoT”…just shows that you did not even take the time to proofread your article. Spellcheck will not catch those type of issues, so proofreading is the only way.
    That being said, many of your points are valid.
    M2M communication is inevitable. The technology is NOT the problem…what type of data is collected and what the data is used for ARE the problems. That is where any efforts for privacy and legality should be directed.

    • Abine says:

      The article was proofread — that was entirely an oversight. Thanks for pointing that out, I’ve made the change and appreciate your feedback.

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