IoT, big data and the problem of continuous data harvesting

The more devices you add to your network and ecosystem, the more data you generate. Who's the custodian of that data and how secure is it?
28 May 2018

All connected devices pose a risk. Source: Shutterstock

There are interlopers in our homes, and we allowed them there.

All the Internet of Things (IoT) devices that we welcomed for their conveniences and the positive things they could do to impact our lives can also listen to you, your family and friends and be used for sinister deeds if accessed by the wrong people.

The allure of the big benefits of big data—targeted advertisements of things you actually might want to buy, but never knew about; healthcare devices that help providers know you need care; home automation devices that alter the temperature and ambiance of every room to your exact personal preferences.

But, there’s a potential downside to all the data points that are tracked on each and every one of us every single day, by letting businesses know where we go, what we order, who we communicate with, how we spend our hard-earned dollars and more. This insight makes us vulnerable and can alter every aspect of our lives.

At this point, people in the know, know that the legislation and legal protections we have in place for privacy aren’t sufficient for this new reality even with some attempts at legislation and the efforts of organizations such as the Consumer Federation of America (CFA), Information Commissioner’s Office and the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT).

Consumers are starting to wake up to the facts and the privacy implications of the extraordinary scale of data harvesting done by businesses and governments today.

It appears we are at a tipping point with consumers leading the charge to manage who gets access to their data and for what purposes.

Businesses know they must respond to consumers about privacy concerns

Even if it’s a form of self-preservation, we do see a trend for businesses to respond to consumers’ demands to have greater visibility and control over what is done with their data.

Turns out consumers who show their allegiance by patronizing companies who are trustworthy and prove their commitment to data protection and privacy have a lot of power to influence corporate data policies.

If a company doesn’t behave in the way a consumer expects or goes outside the bounds of what was agreed to when the personal information was handed over, consumers will take their money and their loyalty to companies who will respect their privacy concerns (or at least the ones they know about).

It’s not a coincidence that the trend among tech industry leaders such as Google and Facebook is toward giving users greater visibility and control over what is done with our data. They know what is good business.

The parameters of data privacy and where consumers draw the line in the sand regarding how much private info they will hand over in return for special offers or a personalized shopping experience are constantly morphing.

As the returns become even greater, such as the potential to get customized life-saving medical treatment based on your genetic code, people might be willing to give access to even more personal info.

However, there will always be an assessment from consumers about the proper handling of their very sensitive information.

Consumers are helping to drive change and are getting serious about what happens to their data, what it’s used for and who it is shared with. Let’s look at a few companies and how they are addressing these consumer demands.

Nest’s commitment to consumers

In the age of big data, agreeing to and knowing the terms of service, privacy policies and statements of products that you wish to use should be taken more seriously than with just a quick click of the “I agree” button.

When companies are forthright and give consumers a thorough look at what data they will use, what you will do with it and why, it’s key to building trust.

The Terms of Services provided with the suite of smart home devices that make up Google’s Nest promise users that their data won’t be used for anything other than the reasons stated when they sign up.

When more people sign up for the services because of this transparency the company gets access to more data and services become more useful for everyone.

Alexa is your friend, or is she?

According to Amazon, the company will not willingly turn over personal information gathered by using the Amazon Echo or Echo Dot, those handy devices that respond to voice commands to tell us what the weather is like or to play music, unless legally compelled to do so.

These devices are always listening, but users do have the ability to stop the device from listening by pushing the microphone button at the top of the device. If you don’t say, “Alexa” and activate the devices’ electronic ears, most likely the device isn’t recording.

Top-level encryption VPN

Most people are alarmed by the fact that ad firms are increasingly harvesting personal data from our web histories.

ZenMate, a consumer security and privacy firm offers a Virtual Private Network (VPN) -style connection that gives users secure, encrypted access to any website from anywhere.

Users of the service can change their virtual location, keep their passwords and banking info secure, and counter online privacy incursions.

Digital Identity Card

ShoCard has a more secure solution than cumbersome bank and credit card identification processes that allow users to scan their identity documents to set up their account and then the app creates a private and public key to seal the record.

The user’s identity is encrypted, hashed and communicated to the blockchain, where it can be pulled up wherever it is needed. The complexity is hidden from the user, but allows for safe online purchases and identification when needed without compromising the user’s privacy.