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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 

Once again, this presents another challenge for engineers and product designers to overcome. While the collection of data is vital for the Internet of Things to function, designers need to ensure their products and services do not harvest any more data than is required to carry out a particular task. At the same time, this data needs to be stored securely and should never be shared without the express permission of the original owner.

As these examples make clear, personal privacy has increasingly become a 'design' issue. And yet, the problems surrounding privacy are still largely being framed from the perspective of the consumer, with the onus being placed on the user to 'protect' their own data.

This focus may be due to the fact that most technologies that collect user data have previously only existed online (search engines, social media, etc.). These tools exist in an abstract form, outside of the physical world. As a result, many of the traditional ways to protect personal privacy no longer seem to apply. In the instance of social media, most online services request personal information as part of their core function. In these instances, it is all too easy to 'pass the buck' onto the consumer, suggesting that if privacy really meant that much to them, they wouldn't be uploading personal information to social networking sites.

The Internet of Things is shifting this debate back into the physical realm. By helping to make privacy a more tangible issue, IoT technologies are increasingly colliding with the social norms of the 'offline' world.

Consider the wearable technology project, Google Glass. While the concept of search engines retaining user data seemed too abstract to directly offend, the idea of wearing a video camera suddenly provided a tangible dimension that brought the issue of privacy to life. Now, following an initial trial period, Google Glass has been banned in cars, cinemas, banks, casinos, hospitals and restaurants around the world. This backlash represents a very real issue, and one that IoT designers need to be conscious of and actively address.

With privacy back on the agenda in a very real and tangible way, the onus on data protection is shifting away from consumers and back to the products themselves. Electronics OEMs then, need to put these issues at the top of the product design agenda.

- Cliff Ortmeyer
  EBN/global solutions development manager
  Newark element14


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