Data Privacy

Could the Internet of Things be used to spy on you?

The Internet of Things functioning primarily as a mass surveillance tool rather than a  world where more things connect to the internet and each other is certainly the view of James Clapper, the US director of national intelligence.

Submitting evidence to the US Senate as part of a regular assessment of current threats faced, he acknowledged the distinct possibility that spies could one day tap into the army of connected devices most of us are expected to acquire as part of the Internet of Things growth, and use it to increase their population surveillance activities.

According to The Guardian, he said: “In the future, intelligence services might use the [internet of things] for identification, surveillance, monitoring, location tracking, and targeting for recruitment, or to gain access to networks or user credentials.”

Scary stuff, right? And not necessarily what you’re thinking of or expecting when you buy that cool thermostat that you can control from your phone, or that upcoming fridge that tells you when you’re running out of something.

His appearance comes in the same week that an influential committee of UK MPs objected to the Government’s proposed Investigatory Powers Bill, saying that it lacks clarity in its privacy protections, and had been pushed forward too quickly for sufficient time and preparation to be spent on it.

These two different stories have one common theme – overreach. And it’s clearly still a huge problem.

We are still often, as a society, locked into thinking that something has to be inherently good or bad, it can’t sit on a fence, when actually few things are that clear-cut.

And nowhere is this truer than in the privacy and data debate. Is it good that authorities have the power to track would-be terrorists and hopefully prevent attacks? Of course, and very few would deny that – but equally that doesn’t mean in any way that we should all give up privacy protections as a result.

One does not absolutely require the other, but rights over the personal data that each and every one of us produce are too easily subsumed in this way if we say nothing.

And so too with the Internet of Things. Clearly some great and useful inventions have, and will, continue to hit the market. Innovation is great and a more connected life makes so many things easier. But again, as has already been shown through hacked baby monitors, for example, the rush to produce and buy cool new stuff should not see a trampling of privacy and security values – by either producers or consumers.

Because there will always be someone or something looking to take advantage of these back doors, and once data is exposed, it’s difficult to have any control over where it goes or what it is used for.

Our personal data is the essence and sum of us online, and we need to value it ourselves before we can expect others to do that for us. So that means taking control of it, being responsible for it, and fighting for its right to be important. gives back control over this data to each user, and of course you should all be using it (download it for free here!), but there’s a wider need to be aware of, and take steps to protect, our data in any way we can. Because if we don’t value it, we’re sending out a very bad message to other people looking to use and abuse it too – go right ahead, no-one will stop you.

And nobody wants that.