Six things you should know about the ‘Internet of Things’
The Internet of Things (IoT) may lead to more efficiency in our daily lives. “Things” are, well, “things”. Stuff. Objects. Everything from your light switches to your car tyres to your yoghurt pots. At least 40% of Australian households now have at least one home “Internet of Things” device.
Australia has no specific laws aimed at addressing IoT issues, and current laws intended to protect consumers have gaps and uncertainties when dealing with IoT devices.
1) Your devices can spy on you (and your kids)
Many IoT device manufacturers and suppliers show little regard for customers’ privacy. Consumer electronics company Vizio recently agreed to pay US regulators US$2.2 million, after allegedly failing to get appropriate consent from users to track their TV viewing habits.
2) Many IoT devices are vulnerable to hacking
IoT devices were recently involved in some of the largest “distributed-denial-of-service” attacks – flooding websites with traffic until they crash. The recent huge attacks on internet company Dyn and on the security researcher Brian Krebs were in large part fuelled by hacked IoT devices.
3) Your devices are never really yours, even after you pay for them
Most IoT devices come with some form of embedded software, and the devices won’t work properly – or sometimes at all – without it. This software is usually licensed, not sold, and the conditions imposed through license agreements can hinder users’ repairing, modifying or reselling their devices.
4) Your devices know your weaknesses
IoT devices have the potential to collect more intimate data about individuals than was possible with previous devices. This data can then be used to create profiles that give incredible insight into consumers, and can even predict their behavior.
5) It’s almost impossible to know what you’re getting yourself into, or how long it will last
Many IoT products are complex hybrids of software, hardware, and services, often provided by more than one supplier. What your rights are when things go wrong, and who best to fix it for you, can be hard to figure out.
Revolv, a maker of home automation devices, was shut down after the company was acquired by Nest, which was itself acquired by Google. Nest refused to support Revolv’s products, and they stopped working less than two years after being released.
6) The law may not protect you
Many IoT devices put consumer privacy at risk, but the Privacy Act has significant limitations, as the definition of “personal information” is very narrow. The Act doesn’t even apply to many Australian companies, as they do not meet thresholds such as having A$3 million in annual turnover.
So Proceed with caution and think before purchase and use. Also, take care your children in this digital world.