Regulating the Internet of Things

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.


  3. The New York Review of Books: How Your Data Are Being Deeply Mined by Alice E. Marwick


17 thoughts on “Regulating the Internet of Things

  1. The article is a little choppy with the ideas it’s trying to convey. It starts with ideas that I know the general location of where they’re going to go, but then they break off into other ideas, almost never giving a clear image of the idea. For instance, a larger list of man-made things that are considered part of the Internet of Things (not a list of things that are not part of the list) would be beneficial in giving an idea of what you’re talking about, like fridges, household appliances, printers, and any other wireless device.

    That being said, I’m not as worried about companies recording the temperatures that I keep my fridge at than I am of a lone hacker wirelessly accessing my car computer and taking over the steering wheel to make me crash. Cars today are dependent on an onboard computer, which don’t have firewalls that are updated frequently, if they are even updated at all. A hacker could easily find an exploit with no trouble at all and make your steering-wheel lurch in your hands and send you teetering off a cliff. Fun times!

    Also you have the problem of appliances hooked up to the internet becoming spam-bots because the manufacturing didn’t have computer security on its mind when they made your toaster. The internet is a great thing, but we shouldn’t go so far as to hook everything from our ovens to our shoes to our cats up to it.

  2. Interesting post…some points were mentioned that I had not considered before! Whether or not it should be FTC-regulated or self-regulated is a difficult question to answer, butI agree with you that it depends on if they can initiate a law or not that will protect individual’s privacy rights because those rights are the most important thing to consider when thinking about questions like this one.

  3. This was a good post! The internet can be very difficult to regulate, mostly because of its broad scale. Add to it the difficulty of pinning down what privacy means exactly and you have a lot of different opinions and guesswork. We also have to remember that the internet is worldwide, so do we worry about other people’s rights too, or just the Americans.

  4. Great post! I think the internet is a very difficult place to pin down individuals and regulate. I think it should be regulated in some degree and I also agree that it depends if they can have a law that helps and also protects privacy laws. Richard also brings up in interesting point. It is worldwide, who do we choose to protect?

  5. Good read! I think that if the FTC has an investment in consumer protection, it should be creating regulation which limits the way information is allowed to be shared by default by entities collecting that data.

    I’d like to think that the FTC has our interests in mind, but I imagine that must be difficult to maintain with so many tech companies lining their pockets. ( shows 154 companies lobbying for the FTC in 2014. These companies include Qualcomm, Microsoft, Time Warner, Amazon, and Facebook. These are all companies which benefit greatly from big data.

    If the FTC is interested in protecting consumers and promoting a commitment to privacy and individual control of information, I believe that regulation on the ever increasing “internet of things” should be high on their priority list. Regulation which protects the consumer, not the corporations.

  6. Somewhat Less Secret Spy Guy

    I think that the question of whether there should be regulation regarding inanimate objects is a question that is way to inclusive to ever be given a good answer. There should be regulation on on data from certain sources, however, saying that the location of your home (gathered from your car) and the your weight from the bathroom scale this morning (hypothetically, I am not aware of a scale with wifi connectivity) are two very different things.

  7. I think this was a really interesting post with several points I had not considered before. I agree with you that this would be a really difficult thing for the FTC to regulate because of how broad the internet of things is. I think if they were to try and regulate it, it probably wouldn’t be very successful. Until we have a better understanding of the term privacy and the internet, I think self regulation will have to suffice.

  8. I liked this article!! I haven’t really thought about some of these ideas. I think that self-regulating the Internet of Things is a smart idea, like you said. I think it could also work if the FTTC regulates things if there is a law to help protect individual’s privacy rights. I think that the FtC should be trying to protect us, but I think that a law that requires them too will make that happen for sure. I think that self-regulating would still be better because it would be difficult for the FTC to manage everything.

  9. The internet itself is an interesting controversial topic and the way you depicted this article regarding the internet was pretty well done. Congrats! Now I like the various ideas you brought into consideration ideas or thoughts that I never considered like whether or not the FTC should regulate the internet or ourselves and the whole privacy/security topic mixed into this which has been itself debated as well. And just like everyone else I agree that internet is to broad of a subject and information motherboard for the FTC to handle and regulate. There is just to much information and some things would still be on the verge of privacy or security. So like Carly I would have to agree that until we truly understand the internet and it’s conflict with privacy our own self regulation will be the authority of what we manage online.

  10. Good job on the blog post! It had me think about this topic in different ways. I do hope that the FTC will successfully address the privacy and security concerns on its own or instead be pressed by regulatory minimums that seek to protect the consumer rights without slowing modernization.

  11. Good Post! I now consider more things that I have never thought before. I also agree that the internet is too much information to have the FTC regulate. We ourselves must regulate what we do online.

  12. The FTC will have to address what privacy and security is if they want to keep people’s concerns in check. The Internet I think is to broad so I think that self regulation will have to happen from time to time. Hopefully FTC can get their regulations out to up keep with technology.

  13. The FTC will have to address what privacy and security is if they want to keep people’s concerns in check. The Internet I think is to broad so I think that self regulation will have to happen from time to time. Hopefully FTC can get their regulations out to up keep with technology.

  14. I agree that technology is changing at a very rapid rate and that put certain laws out of date. Indeed the FTC attempts to keep information confidential but laws enable them not to do so. So there needs to be more laws that regulate the use, collection, and storage of personal information by companies and organizations.

  15. I believe the internet has grown way to much for the FTC to regulate all together. It’s better to have a good self security on our personal information that is held online. Perhaps in the future the government will try to strengthen our internet security laws.

  16. This was a very interesting post! I honestly never thought about some of the things you brought up. I agree that it would be difficult for the FTC to regulate the internet of things, and that devising a more efficient self-regulating inanimate object data collection system would be the best option.

  17. Great post, I found the main idea conveyed a little hard to pinpoint, but none the less I found the use of valid sources and a weekly reading to suffice for a blog post. I agree that FTC regulation is a daunting task, especially when you take in all the connected devices connected to the world wide web. Self regulation seems like the best route for the FTC to take, as you stated in your article the internet is just too broad for one entity to be tasked with regulating.

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