Advances in the Internet of Things are outpacing privacy legislation: Western expert

Our fitness trackers and phone-enabled televisions could be too smart for our own good.

Wifi-enabled, connected devices — sometimes called the Internet of Things — promise a world of convenience but also carry a serious risk of privacy breaches that Canadian legislation has yet to address, says Western Prof. Sam Trosow.

Many of these devices can make our lives healthier, easier, safer and more energy-efficient. But they are gathering and disseminating more information about us than we might know, said Trosow, an associate professor with a joint appointment in the faculties of Law and Information and Media Studies.

Trosow has published a paper that advocates for stronger privacy regulation of wifi-enabled personal devices — from smart fridges to baby monitors and thermostats — to ensure that all data collection remains secure and private. “Canadian privacy law is not keeping pace with the rapid changes accompanying the spread of the network technologies and the Internet of Things. Significant policy changes are therefore needed to adequately protect the privacy and security interests of Canadian consumers,” he said.

A specialist in intellectual property and privacy law, Trosow said many of these devices are intrusive, either explicitly or implicitly. “They are data collectors, first and foremost. As consumers, how many of us ask ourselves how this information is gathered and decoded — or even whether it is decoded? Few people ever read the products’ terms-of-service that may, or may not, tell us how our data is aggregated and used.”

A toy-maker has just removed from its product line a wifi baby “hub” that many consumers deemed too intrusive: it had the ability to hear a baby’s cries, answer its questions and sing lullaby responses. In notable other cases, hackers have gained electronic entry into people’s homes by exposing vulnerabilities in the security of similar wifi devices.\

“I don’t want to come off sounding like a Luddite or a technophobe because, handled the right way, these devices can make a dramatic improvement in people’s lives,” Trosow said. “But when we buy these products, we need to understand the privacy implications and security risks associated with bringing these devices into our homes. We also need to better understand how our personal information is being collected, analyzed and reused.”

The paper, entitled The Internet of Things: Implications for Consumer Privacy Under Canadian Law, is published in Scholarship@Western in the Western Libraries collection.

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Sam Trosow, Prof. Sam Trosow of Western Law and the Faculty of Information and Media Studies is a specialist in intellectual property and privacy law. Western University/ Geoff Robins