Here at The Hearty Soul, we are always trying to deliver the best health and wellness advice with a prime focus on nutrition and lifestyle. However, we are going to deviate, but only slightly. The technology we have is becoming more and more connected, and while this is convenient, it is presenting us with some problems.
The Internet of Things (IoT) is upon us and it has the potential to affect us negatively in many ways and we thought you should know. The more we know, the more we can help ourselves, and that is ultimately linked to our overall health.
The IoT devices have that curious quality that they seem to be completely unnecessary until you buy them. Once you go down the slippery slope of fitness tracking and quantifying your life, however, buying newer and newer devices feels imperative. The power that IoT gives over our lives is addictive.
The problems start when that power falls into the wrong hands. And due to poor security and appalling privacy policies, this happens way more often than you think. It’s time we start thinking who collects our IoT data and what they do with it.
Ok, but what is IoT?
Internet of Things (IoT) describes any physical object that can be connected to and transmit information via the Internet. That includes the usual suspects like smartphones, laptops, and tablets. But more and more often, objects that we don’t traditionally associate with the Web can be IoT. There are smart fridges, smartwatches, smart light switches, and even smart bras .
Shockingly low security standards
In principle, IoT is a fantastic invention. Who doesn’t want their fridge to know when they’re low on milk and automatically order it online? Or have their AC connected to an app so they can turn it on before they get home? Long live convenience, right?
Unfortunately, there is a dark side to IoT. Connected devices have a bad reputation for security negligence. That’s because IoT manufacturers have no incentive for stringent, months-long cybersecurity testing. The revenue comes from releasing new features as fast as possible and beating the competitors the market. Cybersecurity is an afterthought, at best.
The repercussions of low industry-wide standards are shocking. Researchers proved that a vast range of connected devices was vulnerable to hacking. This included home security cameras (imagine hackers having access to a live-stream of your living room), baby monitors, and even medical devices . In a hacking experiment, a group of undergraduate students managed to successfully hack a pacemaker in a simulated human. This shows that the lack of appropriate security measures isn’t just worrying — it’s potentially lethal.
Luckily, there are some simple ways to counteract at least a few of the common threats. Experts suggest immediately changing the preconfigured password on your new device, as the manufacturers are known to use the same password for several devices.
Another solution is using a VPN, or virtual private network, which is a technology encrypting Internet traffic. Even if hackers manage to hack your device, they won’t be able to see the information flow to and from that device. IoT devices, such as baby monitors or smart home, can’t have a VPN app downloaded directly onto them. You will need to use a VPN router to automatically encrypt the Internet traffic for all devices connected to your home Wi-Fi.
Unfortunately, this protection will only secure your home appliances. Once you’re out of your home network, you’re vulnerable to hacking again. For those devices on-the-go, like smartwatches or smart cars, you’re reliant on the manufacturer’s cybersecurity measures.
Are IoT devices the end of privacy?
Unfortunately, hacking is not the end of the bad news for your connected devices. The regulations of IoT data privacy are still in their nascency and far from comprehensive. As a result, we are witnessing many manufacturers taking advantage of the grey legal area and collecting more data than necessary. And given just how sensitive the data from your fitness trackers or smart home devices is, you probably don’t want it stored on the manufacturer’s servers.
Case in point, the recent scandals that revealed Google and Amazon eavesdropping on voice assistant . Yes, you heard that right. Both tech giants were collecting the recordings from Alexa and Google Assistant and having their contractors transcribe them as part of AI training. The customers affected by this policy had no idea that their daily conversations, bedroom activities, and arguments with spouses were training material.
Luckily for smart home owners, Amazon and Google have now suspended human review of user audio recordings in response to the outrage. But the incident goes to show how reckless these companies are with customer data and how little transparency there is on how our information can be used. How many other shady practices are we not aware of yet?
In a world driven by data and advertising, data from IoT devices is incredibly tempting. Imagine your smart fridge sending alerts to a digital marketing agency, informing them what products you like. Before you know it, you’re getting targeted ads based on the contents of your fridge, your voice searches with Alexa, and the quality of your sleep as measured by your Fitbit. It’s not hard to imagine that IoT could be the ultimate end to our barely-existing privacy.
IoT has a great potential for making our lives more convenient, our bodies easier to understand, and our homes smarter. But for every advantage of a new technology, there is always a drawback.
The type of information measured and collected by IoT is incredibly sensitive. We’re talking about health data, video footage of our homes, and intimate recordings of our most unfiltered selves. Reckless privacy policies of the tech companies and easy access for hackers make this data more vulnerable to prying eyes than ever.
Ultimately, we need to ask ourselves if we want to accept this trade-off. As digitalisation of everything leads to increasing digital fatigue, more and more people answer “no”. Many argue that technology is stripping us off being present, mindful, and appreciative. In her book Bored and Brilliant, journalist Manoush Zomorodi even suggests that tech might be making us less creative and ultimately less “brilliant”.
In the time when everyone chases after the next big thing, might there be more value in slowing down and consciously missing out? Just a thought.