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FTC “Internet of Things” Workshop Explores Privacy Risks and Benefits

Posted in FTC, Internet of Things, Mobile, Reasonable Security

The Federal Trade Commission’s long awaited “Internet of Things” public workshop was held Nov. 19, 2013, and webcast live (with presentations, transcripts and videos to be archived for ready access at http://www.ftc.gov/video) to explore a wide range of potential privacy and security issues associated with Internet-connected devices everywhere – at home, work and in the car.   As the workshop follows closely on the heels of the FTC’s first “Internet of Things” enforcement action in September (covered by the InfoLawGroup, “FTC Enters “Internet of Things” Arena With TRENDnet Proposed Settlement“) FTC watchers have eagerly awaited the agency’s view on how it may push deeper into the nascent area.

With remarks by FTC Commissioners Ramirez and Ohlhausen, presentations by industry and researchers, and four highlighted panels demarcating the primary areas of FTC concern (e.g., The Smart Home, Connected Health and Fitness, Connected Cars and Privacy and Security in a Connected World) it’s clear the FTC views the “Internet of Things” as a realm that will become a significant focus of future FTC scrutiny.

The Keynote presentation, by the Internet’s legendary Vint Cerf who is now “Chief Internet Evangelist” at Google, Inc., offered both an eye-opening look at the amazing spectrum of technological developments to date as well as a realistic assessment of the promise and challenges to come.  In responding to a question as to whether the Internet of Things would effectively eliminate privacy Cerf opined that, “privacy [as we know it] may actually be an anomaly [of the modern era],” and observed further “that our social behavior [online] is quite damaging with regards to privacy as our use [and the reach] of technology has far out raced” our easy ability to assess and judge the ramifications.  Cerf concluded that perhaps the ultimate solution to the privacy issue is that we need to develop “social conventions that are more respectful of people’s privacy.”  In connection, when asked if the government should specifically regulate the privacy area as to the growing Internet of Things realm he paused, then noted, “it’s tricky” to craft effective and positive regulations, and believes we ultimately will need to push through a period of experience and be willing to endure a wide range of problems first, noting in summary “that while regulation might be helpful most of our privacy issues are the result of our own behavior… the fact that we didn’t think [through or didn't understand] the results of our actions [online].”

A significant portion time of our time at the InfoLawGroup is spent thinking about and examining from every possible angle the various scenarios our clients may face in the here and now, as well as those that could foreseeably arise in the future.  Once fully underway the Internet of Things promises to herald an era of new opportunities, challenges and, yes, risks that, with the Internet itself, will continue to shift the fabric of our economy, our daily lives and interactions with others – in both the personal and business landscapes.