Is Privacy Possible With the ‘Internet of Things’?


On Tuesday, the Federal Trade Commission held a workshop discussing the possibilities and implications surrounding the growing number of connected devices that will eventually make up what’s referred to as “The Internet of Things.”

The Internet of Things is the concept that eventually almost everything around us will be connected to and shared through the Internet in the near future. Some common examples include the possibility of your scale telling your refrigerator that you’re overweight and your refrigerator recommending healthy recipes based on what’s stored inside it in response, or interconnected smart cars that collect data on the roads and other vehicles so that they can drive themselves. General Electric (NYSE:GE) already uses similar technology to monitor the efficiency of jet engines, locomotives, and wind turbines. Obviously, the possibilities for the Internet of Things are as endless as the amount of objects that could be connected to the Web.

While there is a huge amount of benefits that such technology could provide — including the possibility to make driving, surgery, and overall day-to-day life safer — there are still enormous concerns about privacy, and the FTC workshop showed that neither the government nor tech companies really know how to ensure our privacy as the devices around us become more connected. Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) Vice President Vint Cerf spoke at the workshop. Cerf said he believes that the Internet of Things will have to be implemented before we get a true idea of what kinds of privacy risks come with it. “We’re going to have to live through a period of experimentation with the Internet of Things before we can hope to develop a good understanding of the privacy and security risks it undoubtedly will pose,” the Google VP said.

The Internet of Things could collect data on whether or not you’re home, where and when you’ve been driving your car, what and how much you’ve been eating, or whether or not you’ve showered on a particular day. Hackers or malfunctions could endanger your life by altering the functions of your house or car. If burglars got a hold of the information they could easily rob your house, and of course, the government would have an even larger wealth of information on us to collect. After the public outrage displayed when it was found that the National Security Agency was reading our emails and keeping track of who we call on the phone, would we really want to make even more personal data available via the Web?

Yet another concern, the Washington Post points out, is that the companies making refrigerators and dishwashers and other objects that will implement the technology have no experience dealing with hacking or other privacy concerns. If Google’s masterminds don’t know what the implications for such technology could be, trusting it with the average makers of consumer appliances may not be in our best interest. But perhaps Cerf is right; maybe we’ll have to sacrifice a little privacy at first in order to reap the benefits of the Internet of Things.

Follow Jacqueline on Twitter @Jacqui_WSCS

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