‘Data is the new oil’: Rise of internet connected smart products means our private information is increasingly valuable to companies, experts warn
- Professor Chris Speed and Joe Lindley gave talks at Cheltenham Science Festival
- TVs, thermostats and more collect and transmit data about personal behaviour
- They question what happens to the data that’s collected and who then uses it
- They also cautioned that smart technology is susceptible to hackers
Gadgets such as Alexa and Google Assistant are becoming increasingly popular but people are being warned of the dangers of filling their homes with smart technology.
Televisions, thermostats, door locks, light bulbs, bathroom scales and toothbrushes can now all connect to the internet and collect and transmit data about personal behaviour.
Two university academics have questioned what happens to the data collected by these devices and who then uses it – because data is now a prized commodity, which they say is now as valuable as oil.
Professor Chris Speed and Joe Lindley, who are experts on the ‘internet of things’, also cautioned about security, saying smart technology is susceptible to hackers.
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Gadgets such as Alexa and Google Assistant are becoming increasingly popular but people are being warned of the dangers of filling their homes with smart technology
WHAT IS THE INTERNET OF THINGS?
Although the term ‘Internet of Things’ (IoT) first appeared in 2005, there is still no widely accepted definition.
IoT includes gadgets bought by consumers, as well as products and services designed for businesses to help machines ‘communicate’ with each other.
For example, the term IoT can include the Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags businesses place on products in stores to track their inventory, or sensors that monitor electricity use in hotels.
The pair were speaking at an event at Cheltenham Science Festival discussing the impact the ‘internet of things’ and technology has on the home.
Mr Lindley, from the University of Lancaster, said technology companies were increasingly using smart technology to sell products and monetise data collection.
‘You probably don’t need a new television but 4K was invented to sell more TVs,’ he said.
‘You don’t need 4K because you can’t tell the difference between HD.
‘Another benefit is that if you have an internet connected smart TV, it’s more likely than not reporting back what you are watching and when you are watching it.
‘The company you got it from knows who you are and they can monetise that. It’s part of this data economy and data is the new oil.’
Professor Speed, from the University of Edinburgh, said smart technology could be used positively in the health sector to diagnose disease but warned of the problems of regulating that data.
‘There are third-party relationships between Google and the NHS – it means that if I’m sitting on an ‘internet of things’ toilet in England I don’t know where my toilet activity has gone,’ he said.
‘It may well have been sold to a third party and I get a bundle of toilet roll on my doorstep two weeks’ later.’
He added: ‘There are darker correlations. Who makes the decision that I need more toilet paper?
‘The problem with data is that you can’t follow it. You can try to regulate it but that is really hard to do.
‘The internet of things is a great idea if you hang off the values but it is a really tough idea to follow through with regulation to ensure the values are kept appropriate for the community.’
Two university academics have questioned what happens to the data collected by these devices and who then uses it – because data is now a prized commodity, which they say is now as valuable as oil
WHAT ARE THE DOWNSIDES TO THE INTERNET OF THINGS?
1. Your devices can spy on you (and your kids)
2. Many IoT devices are vulnerable to hacking
3. Your devices are never really yours, even after you pay for them
4. Your devices know your weaknesses
5. It’s almost impossible to know what you’re getting yourself into, or how long it will last
6) The law may not protect you
Mr Lindley added that having microchips inside everything was creating a massive security problem.
‘There is no such thing as security,’ he said.
‘It is a problem. I really mean that there is no such thing as security.
‘The rule of thumb inside cyber security is to assume that you are going to get broken into and to have a way of dealing with that when you do.
‘There are all kinds of best practices, making things updatable, not having default passwords, but it is still going to get hacked ultimately and it has real consequences.
‘Security is definitely an issue but it’s a real one.’
He added: ‘If we are going to use these devices, it has to be tackled if we are to have these things as part of our lives, which we already do.
‘It just has to be managed. I think pragmatism is the important thing here.
‘Be aware of the important issues and come up with ways of explaining them and practically dealing with the security and the ethics or whatever.’
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