One lawyer may have just killed part of the Internet of Things

By showing the intrusive nature of a smart TV, the whole pitch for IoT gets a lot harder

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I've long felt the Internet of Things would be a tricky sell for a number of reasons, security and privacy being chief among them. People may not like having so many aspects of their lives connected to the internet, whether it's out of fear of being hacked or the intrusive nature of the companies behind the products.

The latest story on the privacy front won't help. Michael Price, counsel in the Liberty and National Security Program at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, has written a detailed blog entry on why he is literally "terrified" to turn on his new TV. Hyperbole? Maybe. I mean, I'd just take the thing back. But he has a point.

Price actually sat down and read the 46-page privacy policy that comes with his TV. Here's what he found:

"The amount of data this thing collects is staggering. It logs where, when, how, and for how long you use the TV. It sets tracking cookies and beacons designed to detect ‘when you have viewed particular content or a particular email message.’ It records ‘the apps you use, the websites you visit, and how you interact with content.’ It ignores ‘do-not-track’ requests as a considered matter of policy.

"It also has a built-in camera — with facial recognition. The purpose is to provide ‘gesture control’ for the TV and enable you to log in to a personalized account using your face. On the upside, the images are saved on the TV instead of uploaded to a corporate server. On the downside, the Internet connection makes the whole TV vulnerable to hackers who have demonstrated the ability to take complete control of the machine.

"More troubling is the microphone. The TV boasts a ‘voice recognition’ feature that allows viewers to control the screen with voice commands. But the service comes with a rather ominous warning: ‘Please be aware that if your spoken words include personal or other sensitive information, that information will be among the data captured and transmitted to a third party.’ Got that? Don’t say personal or sensitive stuff in front of the TV."

He did not name the brand, but both LG and Samsung are known for this kind of intrusiveness. In both cases, you have the option of disabling all this data collection, but you lose all the Smart TV features, some of which are pretty nice.

Price comes to a devastating conclusion, which I agree with.

"Indeed, as the 'Internet of Things' matures, household appliances and physical objects will become more networked. Your ceiling lights, thermostat, and washing machine — even your socks — may be wired to interact online. The FBI will not have to bug your living room; you will do it yourself."

This article has shot around the Internet like mad. I am hardly the only person who has picked it up. And with that little paragraph, Price has summed up the biggest fear of the IoT concept and what will be the hardest sell to non-techie Americans. There is so much concern over NSA spying and eavesdropping as it is. He just hit people right where they live, and Price hardly comes off as a hysterical conspiracy theorist of the Adam Jones/David Icke variety.

IoT is a wide-ranging concept that will cover many, many areas. Consumer electronics is just a part of it. So no, I don't think this will hurt the overall concept. It would take more than one blog post to do that. But every consumer who reads this is going to think twice about any "Smart" appliance in the future.

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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