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FTC chair worries about IoT privacy in CES speech

Wearables and sensors crowd get a warning about acceptable behaviour

CES 2015 US Federal Trade Commission chair Edith Ramirez has used CES 2015 to explore the downside of the Internet of Things (IoT).

“The IoT could improve global health, modernize city infrastructures, and spur global economic growth,” Ramirez said in a speech (PDF) at the gadget-fest, before adding “Connected devices that provide increased convenience and improve health services are also collecting, transmitting, storing, and often sharing vast amounts of consumer data, some of it highly personal, thereby creating a number of privacy risks.”

Ramirez worries that “The introduction of sensors and devices into currently intimate spaces … allows those with access to the data to perform analyses that would not be possible with less rich data sets, providing the ability to make additional sensitive inferences and compile even more detailed profiles of consumer behavior.”

She's also concerned that data from IoT devices could “be used in ways that are inconsistent with consumers’ expectations or relationship with a company”, such as offering different grades of service and different products to punters based on profiling. Garden-variety p0wnage is also on her mind, especially because of the sensitivity of personal data.

Ramirez's response is anodyne: she wants IoT kit-makers to prioritise security at the design stage and adopt data minimization schemes that see them “collect only the data needed for a specific purpose and then safely dispose of it afterwards.”

She also calls for lots of warnings to consumers about how their data is being used, and when, plus chances to opt out.

Ramirez's remarks don't contain anything startling, but this kind of speech often serves as a policy marker that entrepreneurs do well to note because going beyond the boundaries outlined can be seen as flouting sensible guidelines. Beyond those guidelines lies regulation, a prospect few businesses enjoy. ®

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