Personal Privacy and the IoT: What Does it Mean to You?

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Click here to learn more about Cathy Nolan.

What does privacy really mean to you? When we think about data privacy, we are also including physical privacy to a certain extent, because having your personal data exposed means that you can also be targeted in physical ways—your home and business address, your physical presence at certain stores and gatherings through GPS, and your health and physical attributes through medical identity theft.

Physical privacy is a recent occurrence in man’s history. The first people lived in caves or other shelters and shared a common living space. There was no concept of privacy and people wanted to be physically close together to share warmth, food and safety. Fast forward a few thousand years and most of the world’s populace lived in one-room shelters, often sharing their homes with their domestic animals. Except for the very wealthy, (and even Royalty had very little physical privacy) this way of life continued until the middle class in Europe started imitating the “upper class” and built homes with multiple rooms where people could experience some physical privacy away from their neighbors and their families.

We grew up in an age where physical privacy was the norm and highly prized to the extent that during Victorian times even seeing a lady’s ankle was considered uncouth! Now the pendulum is swinging the other way and many people are willing to give up some of their personal, including physical, privacy for the convenience of being connected to the Internet of Things (IoT). We are sharing everything, using Facebook to share our thoughts, our Smartphones to share our day-to-day activities, and posting millions of “selfies” no matter how embarrassing or revealing. Many of our transactions are available from public records including what we pay in taxes, how much we paid for our homes, our political party affiliations through voter registration, arrest records, divorce records, and all types of licenses. Google posts pictures of our houses, our insurance company tracks how fast we drive and our children’s toys eavesdrop on us if we get too close to them.

Does anybody care anymore that our lives are an open book? Maybe the over 50 crowd still have some illusions of keeping their lives private but starting with Generation X things changed. The Millennials certainly don’t give sharing a second thought, they are willing to forgo privacy for savings in energy, time or money. My connected refrigerator keeps track of what I eat… fine, maybe I will get a good grocery store coupons. Fitbit, you want to know how far I walk every day… fine, keep track of my calories and my activities for me and if your share with marketing companies, I don’t really care if they recommend exercise equipment, I don’t have to buy it. And if researchers have downloaded my blood pressure and other medical information…fine, maybe their research will help save some lives.

Gartner estimates that 6.4 billion devices will be connected through the IoT in 2016, which is great for businesses as long as people are aware how widespread it has become. But when Barbie is picking up your conversations through embedded software, when wearables can even ascertain through sensors when you are having sex, and when your appliances not only know what you like to eat for breakfast but start preparing it, maybe it is time to rethink all this sharing and figure out what to do about other interests having your personal data. While most companies do provide privacy statements, they are often unreadable or hidden in instructions that few people read. Perhaps what we need is a statement clearing stating how our data is consumed and manipulated–something like the warning on tobacco products. WARNING, THIS PRODUCT USES & SHARES YOUR PERSONAL DATA!

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