San Jose Mercury News: Internet of Things will transform life, but experts fear for privacy and personal data
We’ve discussed before the “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. Now, the San Jose Mercury News considers the privacy implications of the technology:
“It” is the Internet of Things, which promises to transform daily life, making it easier to work, travel, shop and stay healthy. Thanks to billions of connected devices — from smart toothbrushes and thermostats to commercial drones and robotic companions for the elderly — it also will end up gathering vast amounts of data that could provide insights about our sexual habits, religious beliefs, political leanings and other highly personal aspects of our lives. That creates a potentially enormous threat to our privacy — even within the sanctuary of our homes. […
Just what happens to the data spewed out by all these interlinked machines is a deep concern shared by many security researchers, legal authorities, government officials and consumer advocates.
They fear the information could be used to skew our credit ratings, jack up our insurance rates, help hackers steal our money, or enable spy agencies to compile detailed dossiers on each of us. Moreover, they say, this vast sea of data could be misused to put a high-tech twist on the age-old curse of discrimination, with unscrupulous landlords or employers excluding people based on the data they’ve secretly acquired. […]
Even when designed for limited functions, experts say, many of these Web-linked gadgets will record whatever they see and hear in homes, which could provide detailed dossiers on the people living there, especially when combined with what’s amassed by other interconnected machines. […]
So how could others see that personal information?
Much of it is expected to flow directly from the gadgets to the businesses that made them. Legal experts say federal and state laws poorly regulate how the information can be used, and the companies already selling smart gadgets often are vague about what they do with the data or whether they sell it to others. Consequently, it’s possible someone’s personal details could bounce around the Internet and be accessed by countless people.
Such firms often say they “de-identify” the data so it can’t be attributed to individuals. Yet researchers have found it’s frequently possible to “re-identify” data by combining it with other available facts. As a result, a White House report in May concluded that data re-identification “creates substantial uncertainty” about peoples’ ability to control their personal information.