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Is IoT privacy an engineering fault?

Posted: 24 Apr 2015     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:IoT  privacy  Google Glass  Internet of Things  connected car 

Individual privacy is the top concern of consumers and the wider media when it comes to the Internet of Things (IoT), but this is not the case among engineers and product developers.

For the most part, this may be due to the wide variety of issues that engineers already have to consider when producing their own Internet-connected devices. Between the development of IoT standards, the selection of wireless technologies and the adoption of an appropriate Internet Protocol, most engineers are still wrapped up in the basic infrastructure of IoT. As a result, more abstract ideas such as personal privacy can quickly fall by the wayside.

It can be all too easy for design engineers to consider privacy as an afterthought. But the truth is that if designers want the Internet of Things to succeed and become widely adopted, they need to start building privacy considerations into designs from the ground up. Waiting for legislators to impose demands from above is only going to slow this down.

The media hype promoting the virtues of IoT to consumers is fast dissipating to make way for an increasing focus on how technology is storing, using and securing private information. Recently, element14's own research has shown that as many as 64 per cent of consumers are concerned with how wearable technology will impact their privacy.

Whether these concerns are justified or not, it is hard to deny the Internet of Things is fundamentally changing the way technology collects and uses our personal information. By seamlessly embedding billions of sensors and connected devices into everyday life, the amount of data being stored is inevitably going to increase.

This represents a significant privacy concern for a number of reasons.

Problems of privacy in the IoT age

First, as the quantity of data increases, the harder it becomes to control. Monitoring and securing one point of data collection may be easy enough, but as the Internet of Things expands to include 20 billion interconnected devices, data security becomes a far more complex issue. While there are already multiple security standards currently being developed to address this concern, it is the designers and engineers that will need to find a way to implement these standards without damaging the end-user experience.

Second, in order to maximise the long-term usefulness of the Internet of Things, multiple devices will need to communicate with one another, regardless of ownership. As one example, a connected car might need to link with an individual's mobile phone or smart watch. At the same time, however, it may also need to connect with other cars on the road in order to gather relevant traffic information. With information being borrowed from different individuals and sources, the idea that any one individual 'owns' their data becomes increasingly difficult to impose.


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