Comprised of connected devices such as thermostats, automobiles, electricity, televisions, fitness trackers, security/baby-monitoring cameras, medical devices, cell phones and tablets, IoT adoption is penetrating some of the world’s most regulated industries such as healthcare, energy, government, financial services, and retail. The potential size of the IoT market is staggering. Commercial-device-focused GE estimates the “Industrial Internet” market will reach $10-$15 trillion over the next 20 years. Consumer-focused Cisco estimates the “Internet of Everything” will be $19 trillion by 2020.
Several recent examples from researchers and manufacturers have shown just how easily privacy and security can be comprised by these devices. In April of 2014, research on Nest Smart Thermostats by Matthew Burrough and Jonathan Gill at U. of I. at Urbana-Champaign revealed two observations impacting privacy and security.
First, Nest appears to be “offline,” yet responds immediately to cloud-based (online) temperature control changes. Second, by interacting with the thermostat or triggering the motion sensors, persistent connections can be made. Taken together, the potential exists to exploit seemingly reasonable functional expectations (e.g., monitoring temp changes).
These technology and privacy legal issues are only likely to proliferate. Regardless of the outcome, the case highlights lessons for IT departments and others charged with safeguarding data on devices. As a precaution, it is useful to consult with the outside technology counsel to better understand you’re rates, obligations, and any limitations to your responsibilities for disclosure.