FTC Chief Echos Concerns Over Internet of Things Security

This year at the 2015 CES in Las Vegas, Nevada, the head of the Federal Trade Commission Edith Ramirez used her opening keynote to express concerns about the privacy and security of Internet of Things devices, and what the industry is going to need to do in the near future to gain the consumers’ trust.

While people have been dreaming of their very own Jetsons-esque smart home since the show first went on the air, the reality of making that vision come true is far more complicated than anything the writers of a children’s cartoon from the ’70s ever could have imagined.

Our computers, cloud accounts, credit cards and mobile devices are under constant threat. While a few companies such as Apple have been able to keep themselves ahead of the fray for the most part, their efforts are still dashed by bugs and holes like WireLurker and Masque.

“The IoT could improve global health, modernize city infrastructures, and spur global economic growth,” said FTC chief, Ramirez.

“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.”

The industry and the tech that drives it still has a long way to go before the average consumer is going to be convinced that it’s a good idea to hook up their home appliances up to the Internet.

These aren’t pieces of their lives that are strictly digital like our phones or laptops, these are critical pillars of our daily experiences as humans that could potentially reveal deep truths about who we are, how we live, and what makes us happy unlike anything else thus far.

“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.”

Yes, we take photos with our mobile devices and browse the web on a desktop, but Nest thermostats know where we are at all times down to the room and how much time we’ve spent there that day.

Our fridges know our eating habits, what kind of food we like, and when we’re having a big dinner party with the neighborhood.

Our washers know how dirty our clothes are, and might even be able to detect what kind of messes we’ve gotten into if the tech behind them keeps progressing the way it has so far.

Until consumers can be absolutely certain that the Internet of Things is a safe place to store their most intimate secrets, only the most tech-savvy early adopters will be jumping on board.

If the industry wants widespread acceptance of these types of applications, they’re going to need to prove to the rest of the world that what we do and how we live won’t be subjected to the same lax security standards and lack of privacy we’ve seen in more classical devices over the past ten years.

Until that happens, the Jetsons will just have to wait a little longer.