Thermometers, fitness bands, watches, light bulbs, thermostats, refrigerators, switches — these are just some of the devices today that can connect to the Internet and allow users to control them remotely using a web portal or a mobile app. Although these devices offer convenience for the users, there are growing concerns as to how makers of these devices handle user data.
Back in April, a global privacy sweep was conducted that aimed to determine just how much user data various connected devices are collecting. One of the participants was the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada (OPC). They are now revealing the results of the sweep.
The OCP focused its sweep on health and wellness devices, including smart scales, blood-pressure monitors, and fitness trackers. The agency also examined sleep and heart-rate monitors, a smart breathalyzer, and a web-connected fitness shirt because these products also collect sensitive information.
The OCP sweepers found that these devices are very interested in learning about the user’s location at any given time. It can be quite concerning why a blood-pressure monitor and a thermometer would want to know your location, although location information can be used to deliver immediate care for people suffering from a heart attack or spot whether there is an outbreak of a communicable disease in your area.
Still, consumers are wondering why companies need to take so much information from them, including full date of birth, not just the less intrusive birth year. Also why do these services need to access a user’s photos and contact list from their phones? The OCP is calling on these companies to justify the purpose of collecting these data. It did commend some manufacturers because they gave users the option to turn off some data-gathering features such as location tracking.
The OCP advises users, “Just because a device or associated app asks for data, doesn’t mean you’re required to turn it over. Many data points are optional and users should be prudent before handing over information. Make sure you understand and agree with the intended use of your personal information.”
That seems easier said than done, because as we all know, it’s far too tempting, and too easy to just rip open the package of the latest gadget/toy and start seeing what the device you just bought can do. That’s just human nature. The info from the OCP is sound advice, although it may fall on deaf ears.
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