Cool New Tech Devices: What Privacy Risks Are Wrapped Up Under Your Tree?

Are you asking for a “smart” appliance or thermostat, fitness tracking device, connected security camera system for your home, or even smart clothing this holiday season?  As the holiday season approaches, all the new cool technology gadgets that are “must haves” may have privacy risks you didn’t consider. 

The technology world has coined the connection of devices “The Internet of Things” or “IoT”   Most likely, when you think of "the Internet", you visualize going online by using a computer, tablet, or smartphone.  However, with technological advances, numerous other everyday devices can also access the Internet and transmit various types of data.  In fact, almost any item (even an article of clothing with a special tag) can be connected to the Internet. 

The Internet of Things refers to the ability of “things” with embedded computing devices to connect to the Internet without the need for any human interaction.  Simply put, your everyday devices will communicate with each other and with you, conceptually improving our day-to-day lives. 

Device manufacturers and software developers often see the IoT as ways to gain valuable and sometimes sensitive data about our daily lives.  This data potentially may be sold to other companies.   With people’s lives so connected to the Internet, there are numerous potential privacy implications.  Some are obvious and others we may not yet be aware of due to the quickly emerging technology.  

One privacy risk is the vast amounts of data that these smart objects continuously broadcast over the Internet.  In effect, the Internet is rapidly evolving into an "always on" tool of surveillance.  In addition, there are significant data security concerns to consider.  Remember, if it’s connected to the Internet, it’s hackable.

For now, we can only hope that the hackers aren’t too interested in the temperature of your home or your resting heart rate, but starting good privacy habits now can help you in the future. 

Here are some tips to get you started:

If you get a new device such as a gaming console, a smart TV, or anything  with a camera that isn’t necessary for the device to work, just put a piece of solid tape, such as electrical tape, over the camera.

Many devices do not yet come with their own security software, so practice good Internet networking “hygiene”.  Learn more here.

  • Your Internet connection is only as good as your Internet security and practices. Make sure you have good online habits.
  • Make certain the firmware on your wireless router is up to date. Firmware is the software program or instructions for a piece of hardware. This information is usually on the device when you receive it and much like your anti-viral software, should be updated. Contact your service provider or hardware device manufacturer for instructions on how to do this.
  • Change default passwords on all of your Internet connected devices. Hackers typically look for this as most people don’t think to change the default password that came with the device. Don’t make it this easy for the hackers to get in.
  • Create strong passwords. The longer the password most experts say, the better. Extra characters are good, but it is the length of the password that makes it more difficult to hack.
  • Use WPA2 encryption and a strong network key. Experts state that if you are only using WEP encryption scheme, any other security measures you take are meaningless because your network is wide open for hacking.  Your device manufacturer should be able to walk you through this process
  • Read through the privacy policy of the manufacturer and opt-out of data collection when you can. If no opt-out exists, at a minimum understand how your information will be used and what information is being collected so you can gauge your level of comfort.


Contact us at the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse if you have any privacy-related questions or complaints.