Imagine this: It’s 2007 and you are Dick Cheney. You have just gotten a heart defibrillator to help with your irregular heart rate and rhythm. It turns out that your defibrillator is wirelessly connected to the Internet, which allows your doctor to monitor you from remote locations. Now this might become a problem considering you’re the vice president of the United States and now have something implanted in your body that has the potential to be hacked into, and possibly used to stalk, injure, or even kill you. (For further information look here.) The issues in heart defibrillators themselves are not incredibly worrisome, as Barnaby J. Feder discusses in this article. The larger issue that presents itself is the Internet of Things as a whole, which is why I believe the FTC should regulate it.
The Internet of Things, also known as the “world’s nervous system”, is a mass of web connected sensors and controllers. Essentially, the Internet of Things can receive inputs form the physical environment and act on them (for example, the sensors might detect a sound, and the controllers might act on those senses.) Massive amounts of data can be collected through the Internet of Things, presenting quite a few issues (which are the reasons I think it should be regulated.)
First, data is often collected without consent. One huge example is the first story Edward Snowden revealed. Basically, the NSA was given the authority to collect months worth of Verizon subscribers’ data without them knowing about it. This obviously poses a huge issue, as people were unaware that their data was being collected. Although some people are now aware that all cell phone companies are required to give some data they’ve collected to the government, many still are not. And even more concerning, unless the Internet of Things begins to be regulated, no one is regulating whether or not companies are telling their consumers what information they are collecting about them.
Another example I came across was about the FTC regulating the Internet of Things, including your car. One of the problems associated with this situation, as well as other similar situations, is that personal information will be shared. As the geolocation of motor vehicles is collected, information is also being collected about the consumer. It will be known precisely where and when the consumer is going, and businesses would easily be able to sell this information to data brokers, who in turn would be able to resell the information to different businesses. Collecting this information can also have effects on the price of insurance and the security of connected cars.
The second reason I think regulating the Internet of Things is a good idea is that the information these companies and organizations are collecting can actually be very dangerous to the consumer. If the FTC isn’t regulating the security of the information being collected, who knows what information is going where. People can steal information, and when there is a lot of information stored about many consumers, it poses a threat to all of them. This can also be the case with more private information like home security systems, which would possibly pose an even greater threat to the individual.
Although I believe regulating the Internet of Things is the best thing to do, it would also be a very difficult task. Regulating the Internet of Things would cost time and money that isn’t currently being spent on it, and it may be difficult to do. Even if regulation of the Internet of Things is implemented, should consumers have the right to opt out of data collection? Or should it be mandatory? There are definitely pros and cons of regulating the Internet of Things.
The FTC is here to protect our privacy and ensure consumer protection. If the FTC were to adopt regulations governing how data from inanimate objects is collected, used, stored and accessed, we, as citizens of the United States, would be more fully protected. In Alice E. Marwick’s article titled How Your Data Are Being Deeply Mined (a reading from earlier this year), she makes the point that people who are concerned with privacy matters must “continue to demand that checks and balances be applied to these private corporations…While closer scrutiny of the NSA is necessary and needed, we must apply equal pressure to private corporations to ensure that seemingly harmless targeted mail campaigns and advertisements do not give way to insidious and dangerous violations of personal privacy.” Marwick also makes the point that technology is changing faster than our current consumer protection laws, which means the FTC adopting new regulations is important and crucial if something like that were to be effective. Ultimately, I believe the benefits of regulating the Internet of Things outweighs the cons, and the FTC should begin regulating in order to ensure the safety of the consumer.
- The New York Review of Books: How Your Data Are Being Deeply Mined by Alice E. Marwick