Internet of Things Sure to Reveal Even More About Us Than Smartphones

NEWS ANALYSIS: The security risks and loss of privacy that come with using a smartphone for more than just phone calls will be magnified by the Internet of things. But the conveniences might make it seem worth it, provided you don't think too hard about it.

There's been a lot of comment about the coming Internet of things as the marketing hype from companies that would provide the relevant equipment gears up. The predictions about the potential impact made largely by academics seem pretty accurate.

But perhaps we should look at what it's likely to mean to you, especially when you combine the IoT with the vast resources of big data and companies that profit from knowing what you're up to at any given time.

Let's say, for example, that you routinely have a couple of bottles of beer when you get home from work. There's the convenience of making sure your favorite brew is being tracked by your refrigerator and that it's communicating with your beer purveyor to make sure your shopping list includes the beer for restocking so you don't run out.

But by collecting the data from the IoT and by some creative use of big data, your health insurance company probably knows about your beer consumption, too. If you're lucky, that may mean you start getting calls about counseling, but it might also mean you lose your health insurance.

There are lots of scenarios making the rounds, such as getting alerts from your car that you're 15 minutes from home, triggering a change to the temperature setting on your home air conditioner, or receiving a warning when temperatures go up in one room, alerting you to anything from a fire to a window accidentally being left open during the summer. So far, most of the possibilities seem pretty benign.

But the impact could get much more pervasive. AT&T is already well along with its plans for a connected car that will communicate on its own with a variety of services. Not only will such a car connect with the Internet for everything from maintenance requirements to restaurant menus, but it's entirely capable of letting those same services know where you're going and when. It may also communicate enough information that it will make the information about why you're driving somewhere available.

So far, it looks like a real opportunity to make your quality of life better. You won't run out of beer, your car will get the maintenance it needs, and you will save money on air conditioning. But the question that has to go along with these benefits is, what are you giving up in return for that convenience? What details of your private life will become public, potentially ending up in the wrong hands with access to too much data?

You'll notice that I haven't mentioned the government or the National Security Agency in this discussion. The reason is that this is not about spying on your activity for real or imagined national security purposes. This is about increasing the visibility of your personal life voluntarily—by default—which means that privacy protections are no longer an issue. You are, after all, allowed to tell people, even indirectly, where you are and what you're doing.

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash is a freelance writer and editor with a 35 year history covering technology. He’s a frequent speaker on business, technology issues and enterprise computing. He covers Washington and...