Privacy and Data in the IoT

Contextual Essay:

For my Digital Artefact, I decided to explore the topic of the Internet of Things which I had previously had a quick look into in one of my other classes a few years ago. I found that what I knew about the internet of things was just the tip of the iceberg and there was a lot more to uncover and more tangents to go down. Ultimately I found myself interested in the privacy aspect of the topic due to some new cases being brought up like Amazon Echo recording and sending out a voice recording of a person’s conversation without their consent or knowledge, and the My friend Cayla Doll which held surveillance devices in the doll. With this Digital Artefact, I was aiming to build on my understanding of the topic while also presenting it as a podcast which is medium that I haven’t tried out before.

Primary research for my DA started off with some readings that were set for one of my previous classes then looked into podcasts discussing the topic of IoT. I did end up finding some Ted talks on YouTube which addressed the matter and went into details about how it worked, the digital world and the cloud, how the objects interpret and exchange data. These Ted talks were interesting to listen to, but ultimately they weren’t what I wanted to focus on. I found some interesting sources on the future cultures website and found a podcast which helped me a lot with the topic. Other sources that I found were through the UOW library which was helpful and others from the news or other related websites which were also included in the final digital artefact.

I believe that the internet of things is a concept which relates to the topic of future cultures quite well, especially when looking at IoT home technologies as these specific technologies are always the ones to be represented in films and TV shows. These types of technologies are seen to be magical and very technologically advanced which is why I believe it’s a topic which is represented a lot in television and TV shows.

My Digital artefact ended up working out as I had expected and hoped it would. I tried to work with the conventions of a podcast and hope that I succeeded in doing so. This is a medium that I’m not very familiar with, but I believe that I did a good job for the time that I did it in. I had some struggles with time management with this digital artefact and found myself wishing I had more time to develop my DA further, work on the podcast a bit more and even use some proper equipment that the university lets us borrow. I think that this digital artefact was a good one and that I have learnt some really interesting things from researching this topic.


Podcast Script:

Hello, and welcome to the Future cultures podcast. My I’m Rebecca Neilson, and in this instalment, I will be discussing the anxieties people feel about technologies like the internet of things, and whether these concerns are valid. In this episode I’ll be giving a quick overview of the internet of things, then I’ll be looking into data and privacy and some examples of instances where it was breached.

So for those who don’t know, the internet of things is comprised of technology and trivial objects that connect to the internet (Mitew, T, 2014). For example, toasters, fridges, thermostats and watches become connected to the internet which allows for them to talk to us, applications, the cloud and each other (Kobie, N, 2015). These sociable objects modify the way that we can connect with time and space through the shift of the mediums that we engage with through the internet, other technology and with the people around us. They are not merely a recording for expanding human subjectivity, but an active participant and mediator that co-constructs our social environments (Mitew, T, 2014).

Over the last few years, we are seeing a more human-centric category of the IoT technology start to emerge, where it is becoming less about automation and more about personal argumentation. So less about the individual device and more about the living services that let people program, connect and use smart devices however they want (Wilson, H.J, Shah, B. & Whipple, B, 2015). This type of control of IoT technologies is in the form of Cybernetics, the science of command and control at a distance.

Although these technologies are doing a lot to help us in our everyday lives, people are still very concerned about their privacy. Especially when people feel like they already have limited to no control or ownership over their own aggregated data, even if it is considered public or personal (Mitew, T. & Moore, C., 2017). Personal data has enabled the development of a multitude of new services, applications and devices to be developed, like recommender systems, personal assistants and personalise applications (Assaderaghi, F. et al., 2017). This type of anxiety and fear towards one’s privacy and data when using the IoT technologies is considerable, as these technologies do have the ability to be breached, while the data can be taken and used by companies without consent.

Security of data and privacy are the biggest challenges when these IoT devices are being used in peoples everyday lives, and many people don’t consider how much these devices and their software can accumulate (Kobie, N, 2015). Take the recent Facebook privacy scandal that happened this year, a lot of people were shocked when they could ultimately see what the software had been documenting and accumulating about them from following them around the internet. If Facebook and Google have this much data on you, could you imagine the details that these IoT technologies would collect? Especially when more technologies like this are being connected to the internet compared to humans, which will escalate to the tens or hundreds times largest than the number of connected people (Tabane, E. & Zuva, T., 2017).

With the introduction of smart home devices like the Amazon echo – which has the ability to collect, discard, locate, measure, transmit, alter and store information – there have been people who have been experiencing problems or privacy problems in the software. A recent case of this was where someone’s Echo sent out a private conversation to the users contact without them knowing or authorising it. There was a problem with Echo’s voice recognition services which misheard a word and triggered the device to record the conversation without the people involved knowing. The voice recording was later sent to a work colleague who quickly notified the people involved in the incident. Amazon later came out with a statement after this event was picked up by the media stating “We investigated what happened and determined this was an extremely rare occurrence, We are taking steps to avoid this from happening in the future” (Coldewey, D, 2018). Although Amazon states that this was an extremely rare occurrence this type of privacy breach could put someone in a very serious situation. Especially when this device has the ability to listen in on your everyday conversations. If a wrong word could trigger it to record what you are saying and send it to the wrong person, then is this device as secure and private as they say it is?

Data collection poses a real threat to an individual privacy, and this is even more critical in the cases of IoT technologies as the type of data collected is more personal and the information gathered is more detailed (Assaderaghi, F. et al., 2017). A number of instances have occurred over the last few years which have highlighted problems with privacy and data collection with IoT technologies. In 2017, a smart TV Company was convicted for collecting data on viewing habits from 11 million smart TVs without user consent. In January 2017 there was an IP camera security flaw which was detected from a company failing to protect its IoT devices, from widely known and reasonably foreseeable risks of privacy data loss. And in 2016 the Norwegian consumer council carried out an investigation on the ‘My friend Cayla’ Doll which used internet connection, Bluetooth and speech to text technology to interact with children. It was later banned in Germany in both sales and ownership when there was evidence of it containing a concealed surveillance device that violates the federal privacy regulations (Assaderaghi, F. et al., 2017).

The majority of devices carry embedded software and processor within them, which in most cases cause the problem of vulnerability and security issues (Tabane, E. & Zuva, T., 2017). Many of these internets of things gadgets have the potential for hacking or others gaining control over the devices sensitive and private data due to the sensors packed into the tech, including microphones, cameras and interfaces with GPS. This causes a potential for data to be given to companies or used for other means even when we don’t want or expect this to happen.

The privacy and security of devices pose significant challenged for many systems, but this could be conquered by enabling privacy by design in data encryption. Encryption technologies are now becoming widely available and integrated into a variety of systems, which will hopefully allow for more security when using these types of technologies (Assaderaghi, F. et al., 2017). Other reasons why the IoT devices are lacking fundamental security is due to the lack of industry knowledge, lack of developer knowledge and the time market (Romeo, C, 2017).

Products are being added with IP interfaces that have previously existed in a network-less world. When the IP is added to the device it is connected to the internet and the device is then exposed and attempts to compromise it will follow. Companies which are moving towards the IoT technologies are not primarily the same technology companies which have been building and modifying their technology and security in their products over the years, which would mean they have less experience and knowledge when it comes to data and privacy safety (Romeo, C, 2017).

Newer developers writing the code that runs IoT devices are responsible for ensuring that the devices are protected from attacks, both complicated and simple. Security is not something to take lightly as devices can be attacked and hacked into, and data can be compromised pretty quickly. For Example XM Cameras which had default credentials and open backdoors allowed for malicious software to be loaded onto the camera and the data of the cameras being distributed online. Start-ups are more likely to be focused on deploying products and features that capture the eyes of investors and new customers. Security is not something that would be prioritized (Romeo, C, 2017).

Technology is rapidly evolving and having a more significant impact on society that it has ever had with sensors and intelligence starting to be embedded in every device. These advances bring significant benefits for people, companies and organisations but technology needs to be better understood by individuals, especially with the associated privacy and data risks involved (Fu, K. et al., 2017). Privacy and security pose significant challenges for many systems, and these challenges are more complex in the IoT technologies due to its additional constraints, but once these challenges are overcome, and the privacy and data problems are fixed these technologies will undoubtedly become more trusted for everyday use (Assaderaghi, F. et al., 2017).




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