More and more aspects of our lives are connected to the internet, thanks to computers, gaming systems, household assistants, home robots, TVs, tablets, smartphones and wearables. This is the Internet of Things (IoT), the connections of our devices and the exchange of data from those devices over the internet to other devices or systems. 

It is important to understand how our privacy may be affected by these exchanges and what personal information is used, collected and shared by organizations.

Although IoT devices make it easier to connect to the world around us, they can also track and collect personal information – information about us, such as our activities, behaviors and interests, as well as contacts, photos, videos, location, health information and financial details.

Why We Should Care About How Our Data Is Used

The data on our devices and apps can be stored indefinitely and used in both beneficial and unwelcome ways. Even seemingly innocuous information – such as our favorite restaurants or items we purchase – can be used to make inferences about our socioeconomic status, preferences and more. 

Some companies sell this information, and it may be used to build a larger profile based on cumulated data about us, which can contain information about our habits, interests, buying patterns, and health.

  • Privacy settings on social media platforms do not always prevent our personal information from being shared beyond the intended audience or alert users when their information has been shared.
  • When shopping online, we must be careful to protect our personal information and ensure that they are doing business over secure networks (e.g., https). E-commerce is an environment ripe for cybercrime with millions of consumers’ banking information, addresses, browsing preferences and other personal information potentially available.
  • Advances in health care technology, such as digital record-keeping and internet-connected medical devices, come with a risk. Medical organizations and insurance companies, collect large volumes of data, including Social Security numbers, financial information, medical history and current health status. This data can be immensely valuable to cybercriminals and cause deep emotional stress if it is compromised, stolen or shared.

As consumers, we should understand how their data is collected, used and shared to make informed decisions about data sharing and the risks associated with it.