Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Some people declare themselves watchdog of the Internet of Things

I don’t know what the Federal Trade Commission is but it’s setting up a watchdog for the Internet of Things. Watching, that is, for privacy violations.  Which is surely better than not doing it, even if they don’t have any useful powers.  The Internet of Things has enormous potential to snoop into every aspect of our lives, offering useful but not necessarily valuable services in return.

The new watchdog is saying some sensible enough things and understands the fact that companies should be more open about what data they collect about us and what they do with it. They seem to want customers to be in control of what data they reveal.

But they seem more focused on security than on consumer education and choice.  I’d like to see a watchdog that could ensure that companies were honest and straightforward about what data they collect and how they use it, communicating this in a way that their customers could easily understand and decide whether or not to agree with.  I’d like to see some enforcement of consumer choice.  For example, I might prefer to pay a larger mobile phone tariff in exchange for certain privacy guarantees. 

The current problem is that for the most part we don’t really know what we’re signing up for; we don’t know whether the services we use are giving us appropriate value for privacy; there’s little or no way to manage our relationships with the companies that hoard our data; and we aren’t usually given the option of more expensive but less privacy-breaking services.

I want a watchdog that can do that.  By the sound of it, this one has the right sort of idea and that’s encouraging, but I think we deserve more information from IoT companies than the watchdog is prepared (or able) to demand right now.  So as usual I’m optimistic and pessimistic at the same time.

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