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Concerns About the Internet of Things

Posted by Christina B. Farnsworth

Mar 13, 2014 2:04:00 PM

What if the NSA was tracking you through your refrigerator? What if your car was tattletaling on you? There are privacy concerns in the Internet of Things.

We have written before about the Internet of Things. Friday, the Public Radio International (PRI) program “Science Friday” was back interviewing Bruce Schneier on the darker side, the security issues related to the Internet of Things.

Schneier is an optimist. “The future is where the fun is,” he says. “Security concerns are real, but they are around the edges.”

I used to joke a decade ago that if someone wanted to know where I was that Safeway probably knew through my loyalty card. Even if I paid cash, if I used the loyalty card, it recorded what I spent on what and where I was. Today, I know that my smart phone is giving out information about my whereabouts via the permissions given to apps. So this particular Science Friday program segment really got my attention.

The refrigerator that can let you know when you are out of something and prepare a grocery list or be tapped into the grocery store so that the groceries just show up, can also give someone at least hints about how many people are in the household. It might know when you have visitors that eat different foods than you do or just more food. (I have imagined refrigerators locking one out of the ice cream or sweets as diet police.)

Because the technology is getting less expensive, new products will contain computer chips as standard. Schneier says the issue is less worrying about a Big Brother as it is about a lot of little brothers. The permissions to share data are part of every app and program. If we want convenience and connectivity, we have already agreed to be watched.

It seems great that the GPS on our car allows us to not get lost, but it also allows someone to know where we went and how long we stayed. Our thermostat and lights at home or at the office will know when we got up, when we ate, when we left the house— and so can someone else. “Your car and your thermostat (and remember Google now owns the NEST thermostat) can make decisions,” Schneier says.

Listen for yourself, but “Science Friday” segment summary reads, “If your car, your thermostat and your refrigerator are all online and communicating with the world, is enough attention given to who might be listening--or talking--to your networked things? And what happens if there’s a security flaw in the networking component of, say, your toaster? Security expert Bruce Schneier says that the world is at a crisis point regarding embedded network security, and that an Internet of Things could mean ubiquitous surveillance.”

And if the Science Friday discussion doesn’t freak you out enough, check out CBS 60 Minutes’ “The Data Brokers Selling Your Personal Information.” Whether we know it or not, or like it or not, even without the Internet of Things tattling on us, our cell phones and Internet activity are giving these data collectors a pretty complete biography of us.


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