Can You Find Data Privacy in the Internet of Things Era?

By now, we all know that we are living in the midst of billions of devices and machines that are connected to the internet and to each other. Need more evidence to believe it?

Well, Gartner predicts the number of internet connected devices and things to grow to almost 21 billion by 2020. IoT is in fact, huge and growing.
We humans are literally on the verge of being outnumbered by connected devices in the coming years. Now, I bet we didn’t see this coming when we first started using smartphones!

And get this, each of these devices, whether they are smart or wicked smart or even not so smart, are constantly collecting data through various sensors around them. In fact, a lot of our personal information is being accessed by our smartphones alone for crying out loud!

Is it almost time to start fearing the appalling situation of “Technological Singularity”?

Are we all going to get phased out by the intelligent machines one day?

We will have to let time answer that question, although we do have a hold over it through security measures.

Security and privacy are two of the most questionable aspects of IoT. Especially, now that the number of devices, as well as the amount of data are increasing rapidly, it becomes all the more difficult to monitor its use.

Connected everything – is it a boon or a bane?

When you take consumer devices like smartphones, think of the data it collects from your applications. It takes note of everything we do with our phones, wherever we go, including things like what we eat, what mode of travel we use, which route we choose, who we communicate with, what pictures we take and so on.

When it comes to fitness and health care, we have wearables and other smart devices that monitor our heart rate, our sleep time, our exercise routines and the like.

Likewise, we have sensors sending and receiving information on a number of devices we use on a daily basis. Combining all this information, along with analytics in the cloud, the value and amount of information that can be collected about our health and lifestyle is massive. The issue here is that, the level of technology has grown so much that, it surpasses the ability of law to control and protect how this data might be used. And needless to say, the endless number of devices being used, the amount of data generated and the applications that use the data, together make it worse. It is pretty hard to ensure security on such a wide scale.

Wearables

Can You Find Data Privacy in the Internet of Things Era?Delving a little deeper into wearables, a study in 2015 showed that around 41,000 patents were granted from 2010 to 2015 for wearable technologies. This only shows the pace at which wearables are advancing.They are seen more as a means to overcome some of the common issues of the modern society, and encourage people to move more. They help us in leading healthier lifestyles by tracking our sleep patterns, monitoring temperature, heart rate, glucose levels and the like.

For example, the Microsoft Band, makes use of galvanic skin response sensors, just like the ones used in lie detectors to track your activity levels, heart rate and more.
CES (Consumer Electronics Show) this year saw the first ever Bluetooth connected pregnancy test along with its app.
What we earlier thought to be science fiction, is a reality now.

In healthcare, though, we do have the HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996) rules and regulations to monitor and control the sharing of health information. They are pretty strict as well. Devices like Fitbit are majorly being discussed around the world, on whether or not they violate the HIPAA rules. So, we do seem to have a certain safety element around health wearables.

Privacy?

According to a paper published by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) on Consumer Data Privacy and the IoT, out of many issues that could affect data privacy, there are four basic ones that need our constant attention, namely security, data minimization, choice, and notice.

Data minimization is the practice of limiting the amount of data collected from various devices, to only what’s necessary for the application, and deleting any old information as well, all for privacy purposes. The paper mentioned that such data minimization affected innovation, as even though collecting extra information may not seem to be useful at present, it may help future applications and functions, and restricting such possibilities affects the chances of better, improved applications for the consumers.

Notice and choice refer to the information given to the consumers about the amount and kind of data they are going to be sharing, and the option for them to opt in and opt out.

How many times have you seen an application asking for access to your smart phone’s camera, contacts, location and the like?
Even an app that doesn’t seemingly need to read your contacts, like a fitness app, prompts you for such information. Sometimes these permissions are hidden in clickthrough approvals of end user agreements necessary for the app to function or to activate a device or an app.
And many other apps claim to use “bank grade security” and “encryption” as protection measures for your data, but seldom do people know even the meaning of those terms.

Hence, the bottom line remains, that security and privacy are indeed two important aspects of IoT and data collection. But a lack of standards, and rules to ensure adherence to the same makes it an ever growing concern in the IoT era.

What are your thoughts on security and sharing of data across devices? Let us know in the comments below.

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Ashmitha Chatterjee

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