CES 2014: Connected tech raises privacy fears

Internet of Everything Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Connecting more devices to the internet has been one of the themes of this year's CES

In the future, it might not just be your smartphone that leaks personal and private data, it might be your smart fridge too.

So said experts gathered at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

They debated what happens to privacy and security as the "internet of things" begins to emerge.

At CES this year, hi-tech firms have released a plethora of formerly dumb products that can gather and share data about what they and their owners do.

Governments will also need to do more to ensure consumers stay in control of the data gathered about them, said one attendee.

"The internet of things is having its breakout year and it is this year that it will become a mainstream ecosystem and set of technologies," said independent consultant Larry Downes who led a discussion about the topic at the conference that runs alongside the show.

Image copyright IDevices
Image caption iDevices has made a meat thermometer that connects to the net to send readings to an app

Smart lighting systems, Skype-connected baby monitors, a Bluetooth enabled meat thermometer and smart ovens were all unveiled at the Las Vegas show - suggesting that such devices are about to become commonplace.

"Dealing with the privacy and security aspects of the internet of things is going to be one of the biggest challenges we have faced in security for a long time," said Marc Rogers, principal research analyst at mobile security firm Lookout.

Image copyright Amaryllo
Image caption The Amaryllo iCam HD connects to Skype to act as a baby monitor

"These technologies will be some of the most intimate we have ever had.

"We are going to be wearing it, installing it throughout our living spaces and other places where technology has not usually had the opportunity to go."

Good industry practices that have become standard in other areas should be useful in helping to develop safe and secure smart appliances, said Mr Rogers.

Problems were already starting to emerge as the first net-enabled appliances start to hit the market, said Jeff Hagins, founder of home automation start-up Smart Things.

Consumers were often not able to dictate what happened with the data that smart appliances gathered, he said, adding that often this data had the potential to be sensitive and deeply personal.

Image copyright Samsung
Image caption Samsung is showing off fridges, washing machines and vacuum cleaners that connect to the net

"There's a tendency among manufacturers to copy all the data to their own cloud," said Mr Hagins.

"Consumers are frequently not being given a choice to control or allow that."

Commissioner Maureen Ohlhausen from the US Federal Trade Commission said governments should not be afraid to act if manufacturers were not living up to standards of fairness and disclosure demanded from websites and other hi-tech firms.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption There are many smartphone-controlled lamps at the show including this model from Holi

"It's crucial that companies offering these products that are part of the internet of things act to safeguard the privacy of users to avoid giving the technology a bad name while it is still in its infancy," she said.

Mr Hagins added that as well as consumers needing to be careful about who they were sharing their data with outside the home, they should also be aware of the tensions within a family about who gets access to what systems.

"Should a child be able to hack the home automation system to flash the lights in their sibling's room during the night?" he asked.

"That's something they'll certainly be capable of doing."

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