ReadWrite has an opinion column about the privacy issues that could arise with “smart homes” — ones with Internet-connected appliances that “talk” to each other. It is a type of ”Internet of Things,” which is a computerized network of physical objects. In IoT, sensors and data storage devices embedded in objects interact with Web services. (For more on privacy and the IoT, see a Center for Democracy and Technology report that I consulted on and contributed to, “Building the Digital Out-Of-Home Privacy Infrastructure.”) ReadWrite says:
We’re already catching a glimpse of our futuristic living quarters with products like the Nest, the WiFi-connected smart thermostat with an Apple-esque sleekness. Each year, the Consumer Electronics Show introduces us a handful of new connected appliances and household items, each one bringing us closer to the so-called “Internet of things” we keep hearing about. [...]
If you think digital privacy is a contentious issue now, just wait. [...]
Consider this: In the last few years, Internet service providers and mobile carriers have seen a huge spike in government requests for data about customers. AT&T alone receives 700 such requests per day, according to The New York Times. They’re not alone. Carriers and ISPs collectively receive thousands of requests for customer data per day from local law enforcement, federal agencies and courts. In many cases, they’re willingly handing it over. In very few are they actually telling us about it.
This uptick in government data requests corresponds with the rapid rise of smartphones and other connected gadgets among the general population. Naturally, as these devices proliferate, they are inevitably being used by some consumers to do bad things. But as we’ve seen, the technology has evolved more quickly than our society’s rules about privacy — such as those enshrined in the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution — can possibly be crafted.
Why does it matter what companies like Verizon and Comcast do with their customers’ information? Because those very same firms are now selling smart home products that will allow them to collect more data about our lives than ever before. [...]
Every time we connect another one of our household appliances to the Internet, we’re going to be generating another set of data about our lives and storing it some company’s servers. That data can be incredibly useful to us, but it creates yet another digital trail of personal details that could become vulnerable to court subpoenas, law enforcement requests (with or without a warrant) or hackers.
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