While I often tease my friends for wanting “smart” refrigerators and toilets to provide start-to-finish monitoring of their digestive tracks, a part of me secretly longs for the future promised by the Internet of Things.
It’s a future of convenience where everyday devices monitor and interact with the world without our help. A future where, yes, they can even keep track of the food that goes in and out of us.
Ideally, the Internet of Things will make our lives simpler, healthier, and more connected. Infusing technology into everyday items will bring the benefits and conveniences that this technology makes possible.
Or so the thinking goes at least.
This is an attractive idea, one that is currently turning into a multibillion dollar industry. It’s also one that is expected to exponentially explode to $185 billion by 2023 according to a recent report.
I have to wonder, however, if this is actually a good thing? In many ways, this report suggests a grim outlook on our future privacy and security.
Rights to Privacy
There is no doubt that most people are concerned about their online privacy. Basically, if I have personal information online, I expect it to be protected.
We make these demands even in the face of a paradox: we expect our personal information to remain secure while continuing to use online sites and services that take this personal information out of our control. In some cases, we even put this information on public display for anyone to see.
Technology is always, of course, a double-edged sword. There will always be good things right along with the bad. But, most people remain fiercely committed to protecting their rights to privacy.
Even just last week, when the US government announced a reversal on legislation that protected our browsing history, the uproar was immediate and intense. Many people saw this change as a challenge to our personal privacy. In some ways, it was a dark sign of a less secure future.
To me, whether the government is able to protect our personal information or not isn’t as important to how we protect our own information. In the future, our digital privacy won’t be threatened by a few ISPs selling our information to advertisers. Instead, it will be threatened by technology that invades our privacy with our unknowing blessing.
Privacy And The Internet of Things
Since we use technology daily, we have to sacrifice some of the barriers that protect our privacy. We actively invite devices that monitor and record our daily habits, intimate thoughts and moments, and things we aren’t even aware of yet. While many people are concerned about governments tracking them as they walked through the streets, we bring devices with cameras that can record us 24/7 in our homes without hesitation.
As the Internet of Things grows, this will only get worse. Suddenly, we will be surrounded by devices we might not even know are connected to the Internet.
The biggest concern here isn’t governments and companies using these devices to invade our privacy. The main concern is how other people, such as hackers, can easily gain access to our private information.
In the short few years since we’ve had smart devices, we have seen over and over again how vulnerable these devices are. If you told me ten years ago that my refrigerator could be hacked, I would’ve laughed hysterically at you. Now, however, that statement is a reality, not just a possibility.
So far, the few major hacks on smart devices have lead to large-scale consequences. Plain and simple, these devices are vulnerable.
As IoT devices become even more popular, this problem will continue to grow. There’s no reason why we should assume these devices will become safer from hacking attempts.
If Windows can’t even figure out its own security after 32 years of existence, why should I expect my toaster or bathroom scale to do any better?
Looking Towards The Future
My point with all of this isn’t to present a doom and gloom future where we’re all screwed if we get on board the IoT train. This train is unstoppable at this point.
Instead of being that guy on the street corner holding the sign that reads, “The end is near,” I would rather make my time more productive.
Security and convenience are always going to be at odds with each other when it comes to technology. We can’t change this.
However, we are at a unique position in history. The Internet of Things has been described as the next Industrial Revolution, our next step from where the invention of computers first led us.
We have an opportunity to place privacy and security at the top of our priorities during this next revolution. Companies, manufacturers, and governments need to make sure this technology is as safe as possible upfront. Instead of lagging behind hackers, they need to commit to getting ahead in the race.
Us common folk can do something as well. As consumers of technology, we are in control of how we use, or if we use, these new devices. Whether it’s educating ourselves about the threats we might face or even making the hard decision to skip over that fancy smart coffeemaker we’ve always wanted, we are the final defense of our own digital privacy.