It will help you avoid traffic jams as you travel from work to that hot new spot you’ve been dying to try out, tell you on the way about the bar’s half-price coupons and let you check your home video monitors while knocking back a few to see if your cat is clawing the couch again.
But it also might alert your insurer if your car is weaving when you head home and report your frequent drinking to your boss.
“It” is the Internet of Things, which promises to transform daily life, making it easier to work, travel, shop and stay healthy. Thanks to billions of connected devices — from smart toothbrushes and thermostats to commercial drones and robotic companions for the elderly — it also will end up gathering vast amounts of data that could provide insights about our sexual habits, religious beliefs, political leanings and other highly personal aspects of our lives. That creates a potentially enormous threat to our privacy — even within the sanctuary of our homes.
“These are incredibly convenient devices,” said University of Colorado law professor Scott Peppet, who has extensively researched the Internet of Things. “They are magical.”
Nonetheless, he added, “I don’t think we’re being overly reactive to say, ‘Wait a minute, what are the constraints on using that information? I just want to know what you are going to do with my data.’ ”
Just what happens to the data spewed out by all these interlinked machines is a deep concern shared by many security researchers, legal authorities, government officials and consumer advocates. They fear the information could be used to skew our credit ratings, jack up our insurance rates, help hackers steal our money, or enable spy agencies to compile detailed dossiers on each of us. Moreover, they say, this vast sea of data could be misused to put a high-tech twist on the age-old curse of discrimination, with unscrupulous landlords or employers excluding people based on the data they’ve secretly acquired.
The technology is quickly becoming reality, with scores of helpful smart devices already on the market, including some from local companies.
Sensors from San Francisco-based Lively alert relatives when an older family member fails to take medicine, eat or return home from a walk. Nest thermostats from Google in Mountain View learn and automatically adjust to how warm or cool their owners want their houses. Mobile robots from Suitable Technologies of Palo Alto feature screens that let people video conference from various locations. And dog owners can remotely check on what their pooches are doing with a smart collar by Whistle of San Francisco. (continued…)
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