Building Trust 9 December 2015

It Sees You When You’re Sleeping, It Knows When You’re Awake

By Internet SocietyGuest Author

I love my fitness tracker.  Not only does it affirm me (I met my today’s goal!), it also supports my inner narrative (of course I’m cranky – I slept badly last night… be nice to me).  Last holiday season it was the gift I didn’t even know I wanted until I got it.  This year, we’re both older and wiser. Trust in our relationship has shifted from blind innocence to practical, mature action.  I’ve come to realize more and more about how my device gathers, transmits and stores reams of personal data on me and my habits.  Empowered with this knowledge, I see the importance of checking and deliberately choosing the various security and privacy settings and agreements my device includes.

This holiday season we estimate over 50 million connected devices will be given as gifts.  Not just fitness trackers, but also slow-cookers you can adjust from your office so dinner is perfectly hot when you get home and televisions that remember exactly where you are in which episode for each series you’re binge-watching, no matter the source. Lightbulbs tied to your mood, speakers that recognize when you walk into a room to keep your personal music following you throughout the house. These connected or ‘smart’ devices seem helpful, supportive and eager to make life nicer.  But with them comes an explosion of privacy and security concerns – particularly when gift givers and recipients have those first-love stars in their eyes.

Security and privacy researchers have already reported vulnerabilities in smart televisions, camera-enabled baby monitors, fitness bands and more.  The risks range from exposing your private data, to sharing your open/unencrypted passwords, to taking over cameras for spying on your home.  Further, the interconnectedness of the “Internet of Things” means your personal data likely is shared across many companies, not just the manufacturer of the device you chose.  Even as companies work to improve security, patch vulnerabilities and strive for sound privacy practices, new threats appear and complexity puts us at ever greater risk.

Still, there are sensible, basic steps every consumer can take to reduce their risk and help prevent exposure as much as possible.  OTA’s Smart Device Purchase & Setup Checklist provides a straight-forward checklist of privacy and security actions you can take with your smart devices.  Use these steps on devices you receive as gifts; double-check them on devices you already own; run through the list again on any device you plan to sell or give away.

The new “smart” connected devices are exciting, fun and personal in a way that may sweep us off our feet.  But without a little sensible caution personal relationships can tip over into creepy, or even dangerous, and no one wants that. Go ahead, fall in love this holiday season – just do it with at least one eye open.

To learn more about OTA’s Internet of Things initiative, please visit and check out the IoT Trust Framework, more information on the multi-stakeholder working group and a wealth of additional resources. 

Disclaimer: Viewpoints expressed in this post are those of the author and may or may not reflect official Internet Society positions.

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