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Category: RFID, Automated Data Collection, and Internet of Things

RFID, AIDC and IoT News: Five Things for Consumers and Businesses to Worry about Regarding the Internet of Things

Australian Academic Says Beware the Embedded Software - Do You Really Own the Device or Machine?

June 13, 2017
SCDigest Editorial Staff

Projections from analysts and tech companies of all sorts continue to point to explosive growth in the Internet of Things (IoT) and connected devices in the home, the factory, the road and more.

Cisco, for example, just estimated that more than 6 billion devices will be embedded in our homes by 2021, up from 2.7 billion in 2016.

And most of IoT communications will be machine-to-machine - in other words, say your washing machine exchanging information with the appliance maker's server farm in the Cloud.

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US farmers embroiled in legal battle with John Deere over the right to have their tractors repaired by third parties.

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Whether all this will improve the lives of consumers and lead to better products and services of course remains to be seen.

Certainly, in some quarters there are concerns about privacy - but those forces seem to be losing the battle again business interests that see a looming gold mine in customer insights from all that IoT data and the chance to use the data to create new offerings.

With that backdrop, there was an interesting column on by Kayleen Manwaring, a Lecturer at School of Taxation & Business Law at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) in Australia, highlighting some risks consumers and business users may face from the IoT invasion.

Here are five of them:

Your devices can spy on you: Many IoT device manufacturers and suppliers show little regard for customers' privacy. Some even make money from customer data, Manwaring notes, citing how consumer electronics company Vizio recently agreed to pay US regulators $2.2 million, after allegedly failing to get appropriate consent from users to track their TV viewing habits.

Late last year, the Norwegian Consumer Council found that a children's doll recorded anything said to it by children and sent the recordings to a US company. The company reserved the right to share and use the data for a broad range of purposes.

Many IoT devices are vulnerable to hacking: Manwaring says that same doll was also found to have a security flaw that allowed strangers to talk and listen through the doll. Security vulnerabilities such as these can be exploited to cause damage in both the physical and virtual worlds.

IoT devices were recently involved in some of the largest "distributed-denial-of-service" attacks - flooding websites with traffic until they crash. And hacked IoT devices can also be dangerous by themselves, Manwaring saying, noting that in 2015 Fiat Chrysler recalled 1.4 million vehicles when security researchers proved they could break into smart cars' systems remotely and control brakes, steering and transmission.

Your devices are never really yours, even after you pay for them: You probably didn't know this - Manwaring says that with most IoT devices coming with some form of embedded software, and the devices won't work properly - or sometimes at all - without it. This software is usually licensed to the consumer by the device maker, not sold, and the conditions imposed through license agreements can in some cases hinder users' repairing, modifying or reselling their devices.

For example, Manwaring says US farmers have been in a dispute for the past several years with agricultural machinery manufacturers such as John Deere over their rights to repair tractors that contain embedded software. She says the farmers were granted a three-year exemption to certain copyright laws in 2015. However, John Deere is fighting back. In October 2016, the company issued a new license agreement which prohibits almost all software modification on its tractors, which Manwaring says appears to be an attempt to ensure all repairs are done by John Deere contractors.

Your devices know your weaknesses: IoT devices have the potential to collect more intimate data about individuals than was possible with previous devices. This data can then be used to create profiles that give incredible insight into consumers, and can even predict their behavior.

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Manwaring writes that "For a number of years now we've known that the embedded technology in smartphones can be used to detect users' mood, stress levels, personality type etc."

But, she says, some IoT devices can collect even more intimate and personalized data, citing a recent out-of-court settlement by a wireless vibrator manufacturer allegedly collecting data without consent.

"The consumer profiles that can be built with all this data can then be used to sell us products at times when our willpower is lowest," Manwaring says. "Retailers are currently using technology to track consumers through stores and send customized messages to mobile phones. This may be linked to our purchase history and what is known about our mood."

It's almost impossible to know what you're getting yourself into - or how long it will last: Manwaring says many IoT products are complex hybrids of software, hardware and services, often provided by more than one supplier. What your rights are when things go wrong, and who best to fix it for you, can be hard to figure out.

For example, she cites a recent investigation of the Nest thermostat system that revealed that if consumers wanted to understand all of the rights and obligations of those in the supply chain, they needed to read a minimum of 13 different contractual documents.

"Even if you know and trust your supplier, they may not be around forever. And when they go, services essential to their products working may disappear as well," Manwaring writes. Then, she says, Revolv, a maker of home automation devices, was shut down after the company was acquired by Nest, which was itself acquired by Google. Nest refused to support Revolv's products, and they stopped working less than two years after being released. Yikes!

Of course, most consumers and even many business users are oblivious to almost all of this. Laws relative to privacy, being able to have a device repaired by the service provider of choice and more, will evolve and will differ by country. That said, some interesting observations from Manwaring.

Any reaction to these warnings from Manwaring? Anything surprise you? Let us know your thoughts aththe Feedback button below.

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