By Sydney Bush and Joshua Konadu
In late July, the New York Times published a shocking report: The “Roomba,” a robotic vacuum that collects data as it works, also maps users homes and may sell that information to companies such as Amazon, Google, and Apple. But the Roomba is only the most recent in a long list of products with “smart” capabilities that may make users personal data a tradeable commodity.
The Internet has been present in our society for a long time now, and the constant concern of vulnerability of the Internet is not a new concept. However, within the last ten years, the development of the “Internet of Things” has raised a multitude of concerns for tech users. Business Insider defines the “Internet of Things” (or IoT) as a network of internet-connected objects able to collect and exchange data using embedded sensors.
Numerous technology companies, such as Google and Amazon, have developed the IoT devices. These include items such as Google Home and Echo. According to Business Insider, by the year 2020, there will be over 24 million Internet of Things devices on Earth, which means approximately a whopping four devices per household. According to the Pew Research center, 83% of experts expect IoT to grow substantially by 2025. While items like the Roomba may be helpful for people with busy lives, privacy concerns have begun to enter more seriously in the discussion.
Nic Dias, a recent graduate of Columbia Journalism School who studies data journalism, said of IoT, “Companies are selling data to each other all the time. So imagine that some ad company is able to collect all these data sets about you from these connected home appliances, so they would be able to get a very detailed picture of your life.”
But Dias is not a pessimist. “As the technology stands now, I don’t think that things are as connected as they need to be, to provide a significant benefit, given the insecurity. As it stands, that’s a negative. In the future, as things get more connected, and potentially more secure… things can get better.”
Kate Boxer, a researcher at NYU whose research involves IoT technology, echoed Dias. Said Boxer, “I definitely have concerns about awareness, and what is being collected, [as well as] where the data is going, the reasons why so many applications collect so much data… is because companies end up selling the data. Sometimes what many companies do is make the data anonymous so that you can do inferences on different demographics.”
What can be said for sure is this: The security issues thus far involving the “Internet of Things” are just the tip of the iceberg.