Technology groups warned to work harder on consumer privacy

By Nicole Miskelly | 7 January 2015

As the industry continues to push to connect cars and home appliances to the internet, senior US regulator warns technology companies that they must work harder to protect consumer privacy and security.

The FT reports that at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) yesterday, Edith Ramirez (chairwoman of the Federal Trade Commission) said that the government agency are investigating the internet of things industry and want companies to focus more on protecting connected devices from hackers and reduce the amount of user data they collect.

According to the FT, Ramirez’s speech indicates that regulators are planning to expand the areas of the industry which they oversee.  The FTC however, does not hold enough power to create new industry regulations on its own but is lobbying Congress to strengthen data security laws.

Ramirez said: “These potential benefits are immense, but so too are the potential risks. We have an important opportunity right now to ensure that new technologies with the potential to provide enormous benefits develop in a way that is also protective of consumer privacy.”

The internet of things, which was first mentioned in 2014, is fast emerging as a key area of growth for the industry. South Korean multinational electronics company LG, who kicked off the annual show in Las Vegas on Monday, announced their plans to introduce smarter TVs, refrigerators and washing machines, all part of the internet of things. Yoon Boo-Keun (Samsung Chief Executive) said in a speech that all Samsung electronic devices and domestic appliances would be connected to the internet within five years and is investing $100m to make that happen.

Ramirez said that the internet of things, which connects everything from wearables to home appliances and even cars, is a trend that means companies will have access to comprehensive data on their users’ lives, and that such sensitive data could cause problems if it is shared with employers, or used to determine credit etc.

According to Ramirez, companies should only collect limited customer data for specific purposes and then dispose of it. She also said that she questions whether sensitive data should be put at risk in the hopes that one day a company finds valuable use for it.

At CES, many electronics companies, carmakers and small start-ups announced the launch of new products which use sensors to measure user data such as heartrate or that allows them to control their cars and homes remotely.

However, some experts have questioned whether consumers understand connected items and according to Martin Garner (executive at market research firm CCS Insight) “It’s like trying to explain to the Victorians that we’re entering the age of electricity of things.”

 

By Nicole Miskelly, bobsguide Lead Journalist

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