Is your data safe?

Tuesday 19th, July 2016

protection photoThe Internet of Things is no longer something that belongs to the future. They are a big part of the world we live in today – there are alarm clocks that track your routine to ensure you get a perfect night’s sleep. And showers that offer water at the temperature of your choice, without you having to do anything. There are fitness bands and connected cars. Smart refrigerators and smarter homes.

As we all know, all these gadgets work by collecting and processing humungous amounts of data about each individual – data that will make each of these devices almost intuitive – they exist to make our lives easier. But one of the main concerns that many people have – is that of privacy. Fortune magazine even calls it the “Achilles Heel” of the Internet of Things.

While people’s lives are made easier by these devices, there is a sense of unease – a feeling that anyone can get a window to peek into all kinds of private data!

Mattel brought out a Barbie recently – that is nothing new. What is different about this one, however, is that this new Barbie actually listens when you talk to her and – wait for this – she talks back too! And how does this happen? Access to Data! Not just any data, a CHILD’s data!

This is how the Barbie works – kids push a button on her belt buckle to get her started. Her necklace doubles up as a microphone and a voice recorder. Kids download the Hello Barbie companion app. And they are good to go. The Barbie uses wifi to transmit a child’s talk or questions to a control center for processing where speech-recognition software, operated through ToyTalk works on it and then the Barbie replies from its storehouse of some 8,000 pre-programmed lines.

Barbie says things like –

  • You know, I really appreciate my friends who have a completely unique sense  of style…like you!
  • Here’s what’s  up: I’m worried my sister Stacie is having a hard time finishing her homework. Does that ever happen to you?
  • I think Santa is real.  There’s something very magical about the holiday season and I think he helps bring that magic to all of us!
  • So if you were planning the biggest, raddest, most unforgettable party of the year, what would it be like?
  • Of course we’re friends! Actually, you’re one of my best friends. I feel like we could talk about anything!
  • Oh nice! Fun with numbers! Teaching math sounds like a lot of fun. What kinds of things would you teach—counting? Addition? Subtraction?
  • “Did you miss me at all? Not even an itsy bitsy, teensy weensy bit?”

Children have always talked to their dolls – always had a relationship with them that is “pretend” and real! And now, the Internet of Things makes their dolls come alive – they talk, laugh, crack jokes and play games … And when play time is over, the Barbie doll shuts down and is hooked up to a charger and charged back up. The technology allows the doll to listen to a child, and learn about his or her interests over time and “remember” them for later conversations.

There is no dearth to Internet-connected, voice-activated gadgets in the world today. Siri is an example. Or the Amazon echo.

But these are children we are talking about. Aren’t we taking things too far??

Shouldn’t we be worried about the kind of influence this would have on a child? Are we telling children that this is how a friend would act / talk? Are we putting children in a compromised position? Are we teaching them that pretend empathy or affection is real? And how will this impact the social development of a child? Children won’t be able to understand and interpret body language (there is none here)! Bottom line – this whole thing seems to place children’s ability to relate to other people on the line.

And then there is the privacy of the whole thing. Are we recording our children and handing this over to some corporation? Mattel of courses is quick to say that recording a child requires parental consent. And that parents can manage all the recordings of the children through a ToyTalk account. Apart from this, Mattel says that the recordings are protected under the “Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act,” any personal information that is recorded will be deleted once they “become aware of it.”

But isn’t this a privacy or security nightmare? Any hacker can access all kinds of information! While one of the issues plaguing the Internet of Things is that all kinds of data about people is out there for marketers to tap into, raising all kinds of privacy issues, Mattel says it won’t use the doll, or the data, for marketing purposes.

Studies have shown that people are aware that every smart device records data, which can be used later, and they don’t like it. People wonder where businesses keep their data. What do they do with it? Do they sell this data? Who has access to this data? Can people hack into this?

Take the matter of an App download. When you download an app from either the App store or Play store, the app asks you for access to your account and all kinds of information. It gives you two choices basically – either you give up your data, in which case you get to enjoy the services offered by the App, or you don’t – in which case, the App doesn’t work for you! So customers are left with little or no choice at all in the matter! For the sake of convenience, they uneasily give up their hold on privacy.

Customers are not clear about what happens to the data that businesses have access to. And they have concerns. And those concerns need to be addressed. Customers need to feel that their data will not be sold off or shared with anyone else. And that the data that the businesses collect is safe – and can’t be hacked into. Customers have suggested that there is some information about what will happen to the data a device picks up, on the device or on its packaging itself. Or have a third party certify that the data collected by a device is protected and will not be shared. A seal of approval, kind of thing.

But the ground reality is this. The internet of things is growing. And customer data is not safe. The customer is uneasy. And businesses are not doing anything significant to reassure them


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