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Are M2M and IoT a Bane to Your Personal Privacy?

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It’s probably happened to you.  It’s Saturday morning and you decide this is the day you are going to fix the dripping faucet in your master bathroom.

After looking at the offending faucet, you figure that the job would be a lot easier if you had a real plumbing wrench instead of your go to household fixit tool, a Swiss Army Knife. You go online and shop around. So many brands! So many different wrenches!

Wow, too many choices, too much research to complete. A better plan for this day would be to mow the lawn. The faucet can wait a few more weeks.

So, for the next few weeks, every time you log onto anything online, you find promotional content for . . . wrenches! Cheap wrenches, expensive wrenches, imported and domestic wrenches. Wrenches for cars, for plumbing, for putting together little tiny machines and for assembling great big trucks.

Someone is spending millions of dollars to sell you that wrench.

This is a familiar story. It even happens when you search for the wrong thing by mistake.  Then you start getting ad content for stuff you don’t even want. Maybe you screwed up and ran a search for “wench” instead of “wrench”. You just know you’ll be seeing all manner of interesting, albeit strange, wench promos.

Love it or Hate it

Hopefully, you realize that these follow-on promotions are not just coincidentally popping up on your screen. Your searching history is valuable and it is tracked and sold to the highest bidder in a variety of ways. Personally, this does not bother me. I have actually found better product alternatives based on post-search promotions versus what may have come up on page one of my search engine results.

IoT Data Seller

However, it does bug a lot of people and that’s understandable. Usually private browsing settings will turn off the search history feature in your browser. That should help in some cases. There are other privacy features within your operating system and browser software that will limit your exposure as well.

Most folks are not neutral about this kind of thing. They either think it’s kind of cool that their systems help find stuff or they think it is some Orwellian plot to monitor their thoughts for subversive tendencies. Regardless, it is a personal matter and you should have a choice as far as participating in this sort of activity.

Personalization is driven by personal data. It only makes sense. If you want the benefit of content tailored to your specific wants, needs and interests, you have to give up some data along the way. For me this is great benefit that mainly outweighs my concerns about privacy.

M2M and IoT

There is a lot of discussion these days about Machine to Machine (M2M) and Internet of Things (IoT). Indeed it is an exciting technology and the promises being made are starting to come into the realm of reality. This is especially true in the area of automotive connectivity.

Think about you and your car. Cars are recording, storing and transmitting sensor collected data as soon as you turn the key in the ignition switch. Hundreds of sensors in your engine and drive train collect data and use it to fine tune the engine operation and your driving experience. ABS brakes detect ice that we can’t see, fuel and air mixtures are monitored and modified on the fly as we drive our car into higher altitude areas with less available oxygen and tire pressure monitors alert us of low air pressure in our tires.

Other data is also collected and in some cases reported directly back to the manufacturer. Your odometer may trigger a notice to your dealer that your oil needs changing which in turn causes them to send a discount coupon to you for an oil change.

Everyday more and more devices are connecting. Those devices report data which triggers a variety of actions. In most cases these things work to our individual benefit. But, there is another side to this story that people need to be aware of.

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Cars Carry Tales (so will your blender)

Most car rental companies don’t care how far you drive their vehicles during a rental period. But, their standard contract may state that they do not authorize you to take their car out of the country. It may say you are required to operate the vehicle in a safe manner or according to the laws enforced in your rental area.

There are rental companies where your $50.00 per day rental is subject to a large surcharge if it is determined that you made a side trip to say, Brazil or Canada over the rental period. Also, you may find yourself on the hook for a large fee because you drove the car in excess of the speed limit.

So, before you rent the Shelby from Hertz and show up for lap day at your local NASCAR track, you might want to carefully review the rental agreement or perhaps ask the agent about restrictions. That could be an interesting conversation.

You: Excuse me, how fast can I drive this car?
Busy Agent: Perhaps the posted speed limit?  How fast did you want to drive?
You: Uh, I just might drift a bit over the speed limit, that’s all, I’m not planning on actually speeding or anything. That would be wrong!
Busy Agent: I don’t think you have to worry.
You: So? How fast?
Busy Agent: Why not just drive the speed limit?
You: Where can I drive the car?
Busy Confused Agent: On the street? What are you talking about?
You: Can I drive to Indianapolis . . .
Busy Confused Agent: of course
You:  . . . and drive on the track?
Angry Agent: What?  Why don’t you step down to the next counter?

Again, these disclosures are semi voluntary in nature, you can always check if you are able to take the car across a national border or ask if the agreement provides for monitoring speed.

But, what about your own car. How would you feel if your car periodically notified your insurance company that you operate your vehicle in excess of the speed limit 45% of the time? Or perhaps, your car lets your carrier know that you frequently pull G’s on turns indicating that your vehicle is traveling too fast around a corner. Or that you like jack-rabbit starts. All of these things can be detected and there is nothing preventing them from being reported.

Would your insurer use this data to adjust your premium? Why shouldn’t they? Insurance companies are expected to protect us from our own stupidity but not necessarily our willful neglect. Also, the same insurance company may also forgive a portion of your premium if you actually drive in a safe manner.

How about appliance warranties and other products?

What if your furnace starts bleeding carbon monoxide into your heating ducts? What is the liability of the manufacturer if they are able to show that during the ten years you had the furnace that your preventative maintenance was never completed? What if your furnace lets them know that the air filter was last changed during the first Bush presidency?

Overloaded washing machines, lint filled dryer traps, stuffed vacuum cleaner bags and old oil filters all have the ability to rat us out and render their subject warranties void due to misuse or lack of maintenance. The technology is there and it will be used.

How do you feel about that?

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It could get worse (or better depending on your perspective)

As troubling as the tattle-tale washing machine network sounds, there are other even more devious possibilities.

Some may consider these concerns to be the concerns of a paranoid mind.

I don’t believe M2M and IoT are bad things at all. I do think folks need to be aware of how these things might evolve if left to certain interested parties. The technology brings about a huge amount of benefit for all of us. But, there is a price to pay in terms of privacy.

How much are you willing to pay?

Lou is a guest blogger at ThoughtWave. Lou works with Cincom Systems and is a regular contributor to Cincom’s corporate blog.


Lou Washington

Lou has been involved in information management for nearly 40 years. During his career he has held positions in product development, product management, implementation, security and research.

In 1990 Lou joined Cincom Systems where he initially worked with mainframe-oriented products and systems. His role expanded to include product security, pricing, finance packaging and industry research. In 2005, Lou joined Cincom’s Manufacturing Business Solutions group and later Cincom’s corporate marketing group.

He is currently involved in blogging, industry research and content creation for Cincom. Lou is a regular contributor to Cincom’s corporate blog as well as his own blog and other industry sites.

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