The Internet of Things: convenience vs. privacy

Graphic representing the internet of things showing how all devices that connect to the internet interact with each other.

Published November 19, 2019

by Orly Stein

Technology is constantly evolving, and consumers continuously push for convenience over privacy. While you may appreciate that convenience, your devices are collecting an immense amount of personal data in the process. 

What is the Internet of things?

Author

UBIT Student Ambassador Orly Stein.

Orly Stein (UB Student, Class of 2022) is an Information Technology and Management major from Long Island, NY. In the future, she hopes to get more experience with cyber security and pursue a career in the field. In her free time, Orly enjoys playing soccer, going to SoulCycle with her friends and snowboarding.

Any object or device that sends and/or receives data via the Internet is considered part of The Internet of Things (IoT). 

These devices typically contain tracking chips, tags, sensors, and the ability to share information machine to machine.

The Internet of Things includes:

  • Personal assistants 
  • TVs and speakers
  • Wearables that track eating, sleeping, and exercise habits
  • Internet enabled appliances (fridges, thermostats, etc.)
  • Devices that direct your car to an open parking lot spot

Why should we care?

Many of the devices you use daily are constantly collecting your data using sensing devices that can talk to other machines and trigger certain actions. 

These devices may be very convenient, but it requires that we share more information than ever.

The security of your devices and the information you share with them are not always guaranteed. Criminals can program your devices to attack others or can collect a vast amount of information about your activities.

Your location can be tracked

According to Tara Copp from Military Times, deployed service members are not allowed to use fitness tracking apps or wearable technology, because these devices can expose location of bases using geolocation data. 

Your devices can (and most likely are) tracking your location. Even with geolocation services turned off, your location is never secure. As long as you have cell service, it is possible to tell where you are based on your nearest cell tower.

Your service carrier (Verizon, Sprint, etc.) have discretion over what cell-site information they record and how long they keep it.

Voice command devices are always listening

Devices such as the Amazon Alexa, Google Home and Siri can record sensitive conversations. It is even possible that humans are listening to them on the other side.

According to Taylor Mahlandt from Slate Magazine, there have been several instances where companies were accused of listening to conversations recorded by voice command devices:

  • A Google employee leaked 1,000 recordings to expose the company’s recording practices
  • Contractors working for Apple heard cuts of drug deals and other private instances
  • Employees at Amazon were transcribing users’ Alexa recordings

Tips for protecting your private conversations:

To disable voice command services, use the following steps:

Alexa– Open the Amazon Alexa app and select Settings. Selecting Alexa Privacy and Manage How Your Data Improves Alexa will bring you to a screen of the updated explanation of the policy. Uncheck the box labeled "Help Improve Amazon Services and Develop New Features" to ensure that no recordings will be used for human review.

Siri– In iOS go to Settings > Siri & SearchTurn off Listen for ‘Hey, Siri’ and Press Side Button for Siri. Select Turn Off Siri. Next, go to Settings > General > Keyboard. Turn off Dictation.

Google– In your Google Home app, go to Account > More settings > Your data in the assistant > Voice & Audio Activity. Deactivate voice and audio recording using the toggle on that screen. 

Digital home invasions: more common than ever

Devices such as fridges, stoves, thermostats, and toasters that connect to the internet provide a possibility for a digital home invasion.

According to The Detroit News, a family woke up due to a strange voice coming from their baby monitor. Not only was this cyber-criminal watching their child, but the family’s multiple Nest cameras and even their thermostat were hacked into as well. 

You may wonder why someone would take the time to hack into your toaster…but it happens. A cyber-criminal can use your toaster to start a fire in your house.

The more appliances you have connected to the Internet, the more opportunities you provide for intruders to infiltrate networks or plant malware.

Be smart and safe with your devices

Remember: personal information is valuable! Check the company’s privacy policy and review the ways they collect your personal information.

Be sure to regularly update your devices and their apps. If possible, enable the option to update automatically.