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The Internet of Things: Are We All Being Spied On?
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The Internet of Things: Are We All Being Spied On? - Executive Leadership Articles

The Internet of Things: Are We All Being Spied On?

Executive Leadership Articles

The Internet of Things: Are We All Being Spied On?

It’s one of the internet’s most-asked questions: is someone using my connected devices to spy on me? It’s impossible to make a blanket statement for everyone with smart devices, but probably the safest assumption is maybe. Maybe, or maybe not, but if someone really wants to, there’s a likelihood that the someone can.

When then-director of the FBI James Comey admitted in a September 2016 interview that he puts a piece of tape over the webcam on his laptop, the revelation made news. Comey called it a “sensible thing you should be doing.” He added, “You go into any government office and we all have the little camera things that sit on top of the screen. They all have a little lid that closes down on them. You do that so that people who don’t have authority don’t look at you. I think that’s a good thing.”

Baby monitors. Webcams. Voice-activated assistants. Home security systems. Even our own cars! Everything with some kind of connection to the internet is suspect now, including our smartphones. We’ve discussed at length the numerous security vulnerabilities for our data each device may present, but direct spying seems like a spookier issue. Some smart devices are known to reset to factory settings without prompting by users and without informing them, making users susceptible to easy spying, completely oblivious the entire time.

The hosts of the Reply All podcast last fall investigated their most-asked question, specifically whether Facebook was using smartphone microphones to spy on its users. Suspicious listeners pointed to ads for perfume (for example) showing up on Facebook right after private conversations about perfume, insisting that the only way for Facebook to know they were thinking about perfume was by eavesdropping.

The hosts came to two convincing conclusions. First, that Facebook and Instagram (which is owned by Facebook) are most likely not using our phones to spy on us, and second, that once someone is convinced that Facebook is spying, no amount of evidence can really convince that person otherwise.

There was as time when home wifi routers came out of the box with no passwords. Despite its being very easy to set passwords, many users didn’t bother, and we were in an era where you could use a neighbor’s wireless network almost anywhere you lived. Alternately, an underground code sprung up, appearing as chalk marks on sidewalks and walls indicating where free wifi would be had, a practice known as “warchalking.”

Those days are gone, and routers come out of the box with default passwords. Practically speaking, the default password is only a step up from no password at all, with what we now know about malicious actors and their lists of default passwords, but these defaults point to a movement where manufacturers made a switch in the best interest of their consumers’ use of the product. Our best guess is that the most reputable of smart device manufacturers will follow this arc, understanding that privacy and security are major barriers to massive consumer acceptance of all this connectivity. Default passwords, industry-wide best practices commitments, and a savvier consumer base should put us at least partway at ease, although one suspects we’ll never be fully relaxed about what Alexa is doing when we’re not speaking to her.

In the meantime, how eagerly you jump into smart home connectivity is a matter of how comfortable you feel with the very real possibility that someone could be trying to spy on you. Assuming you take every reasonable precaution, is the remaining likelihood of spying worth the benefits? That’s obviously a question only you can answer, but it’s an important one to consider. We took an informal survey of people around us and found that the most avid, savviest tech-heads were most likely to have considerable smart technology in their homes: a voice-activated hub connected to lighting, door locks, Roombas, stereo systems, televisions, and a multitude of apps such as Spotify and Uber. A smaller number of techies went in completely the opposite direction, disconnecting as many things as possible from anything resembling a central vulnerability.

There may come a day when we won’t have to be as concerned about this question, but that day isn’t here yet, so which will it be for you?

Reference link
Reply All podcast: https://www.gimletmedia.com/reply-all/109-facebook-spying

 

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The Internet of Things: Are We All Being Spied On? - Executive Leadership Articles

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