Mozilla has released an updated list of IoT gadgets based on how they collect your data. Some devices are ranked ‘not creepy’, while some are ‘super creepy’. Many products owned by Facebook and Amazon fall under the super creepy tag
Let’s not deny it. We all live in a world of Internet of Things (IoT). Your smartphone knows what time you wake up or when you go to bed, your smartwatch knows your walk routine, and your smart TV knows which are your favourite YouTube channels. And they communicate with each other. Your watch passes information about your heart rate to your hospital, while your car tells its manufacturers that your brake fluid is low.
And if you are a little high on technology, you might have a smart refrigerator that knows how many eggs you eat, or a smart kettle that knows your caffeine intake.
There were 22 billion IoT devices in the world in 2018. The number is expected to rise to 38.6 billion in 2025, and 50 billion by 2030. IoT has transitioned itself from an optional luxury feature into a baseline default technology. Whether you realise or not, IoT has become a significant part of our lives.
But what if the smart devices you own get a little creepy? Imagine if your fitness band listens to your sex pattern and stores the information for future use. Or, if it takes a photo of you when you are in your underwear to measure and track your body fat. And, this is no exaggeration by any means.
This creepy information your device stores is harmless as long as it is used just for your benefits. But, IoT gadgets are highly susceptible to hacking. US cybersecurity company Palo Alto Network has found that 98 per cent of all IoT traffic goes unencrypted. This means your information can easily be collected by hackers if they get access to your IoT device.
American not-for-profit organisation Mozilla Foundation is a pioneer in advocating for more security and privacy in IoT devices. They have launched their 2020 edition of the buyer’s guide that ranks gadgets based on their creep rating. The guide named Privacy Not Included has been developed to help consumers shop IoT gadgets smartly and safely.
Launched in 2017, the Mozilla guide ranks the devices on a scale of ‘not creepy’ to ‘very creepy’ depending on the privacy intrusion. A few of the devices get super creepy tags based on their security features. The 2020 list has 136 gadgets with items like Nintendo Switch and Sony headphones on the safer side and devices like Oculus VR Headset and Amazon Halo on the super-creepy side.
Check the ‘creepiness’ of your gadget here
Mozilla decided to launch the first list after finding that most of the super gadgets are entering the lives of users more than it had to. For example, in Minneapolis in the United States, a teenage girl started getting coupons for baby clothes and diapers from Target Corporation after she found that she was pregnant. In fact, the girl’s father did not know about her pregnancy, and it left him wondering why the retail company is asking her young daughter to buy childcare products.
IoT has been developed to make our lives easier, not to freak us out. The sensors around you have to pass valuable information that solves your day-to-day problems, and not peep into your personal lives.
How to secure your IoT device
Although we do not want our smart gadgets to creep us out, these devices need information from us. After all, the main purpose of these gadgets is to know more about us and smartly make suggestions and decisions. But that does not mean they have to be intrusive. So how do we draw a line between informative decision-making and intrusiveness?
For a starter, the device has to tell you what is the information they collect and how they do it. Transparency is key in IoT. It also has to give power to the user in ultimate decision-making. The user should be in a position to decide what information is shared, and what is not.
It is desirable to track your device’s creep rating on Mozilla’s list before you give permission to pass information to the network. You could also use it as a deciding factor before you buy a new IoT device.
If you value your privacy more, the companies will put more effort in securing the data. Often, companies push their new devices into the market before completely encrypting the data collection process. Your decision will also force companies to use better firewalls and firmware in IoT gadgets.
Audio device developer Sonos removed microphones from its One SL speakers to make it more privacy-friendly after it received poor ratings in Mozilla’s list. Similarly, Parrot Anafi drone improved its security features after being rated as one of the creepiest products in the 2018 guide.
However, these changes come at a cost. Upgrading the security features means the prices of the devices would go up. But, it is a loss that users might need to take. Because your privacy matters, and it is priceless.