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Communications of the ACM


Personal Data and the Internet of Things

personal data and the IoT, illustration

Credit: Kostenko Maxim

We have all read market predictions describing billions of devices and the hundreds of billions dollars in profit that the Internet of Things (IoT) promises.a Security and the challenges it represents27 are often highlighted as major issues for IoT, alongside scalability and standardization. In 2017, FBI Director James Comey warned, during a senate hearing, of the threat represented by a botnet taking control of devices owned by unsuspecting users. Such a botnet can seize control of devices ranging from connected dishwashers,b to smart home cameras and connected toys, not only using them as a platform to launch cyber-attacks, but also potentially harvesting the data such devices collect.

In addition to concerns about cyber-security, corporate usage of personal data has seen increased public scrutiny. A recent focus of concern has been connected home hubs (such as Amazon Alexa and Google Home).c Articles on the topic discussed whether conversations were being constantly recorded and if so, where those records went. Similarly, the University of Rennes faced a public backlash after revealing its plan to deploy smart-beds in its accommodation to detect "abnormal" usage patterns.d A clear question emerges from IoT-related fears: "How and why is my data being used?"


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