Refrigerators automatically doing grocery shopping for you on your drive home from work and cell phone attachments measuring glucose levels don’t necessarily seem like bad things. But with the explosion of cutting-edge smart devices and applications comes the mounting data privacy concerns of the so-called “Internet of Things.”

The “Internet of Things” refers to the dramatically growing capacity of devices to communicate information efficiently through the Internet. The most common example – mobile devices – has now become an extension of ourselves: waking us up to start the day, being an arm’s reach away at night, and being essential to day-to-day activities.

The FTC will hold a public workshop November 21, 2013, to address concerns over the “Internet of Things,” as an increasing amount of smart devices permeate the market. In advance of the workshop, two public interest groups – Electronic Privacy Information Center (“EPIC”) and Center for Digital Democracy (“CDD”) – have submitted comments expressing their concerns over the data privacy implications of the “Internet of Things.”

EPIC’s comments outlined its concern about some of most common consumer technologies that enable this connectivity, ranging from Wi-Fi to GPS tracking. EPIC highlighted its concern with consumers’ personal information and behavior patterns being improperly distributed or tracked. For example, some cars now come equipped with electronic GPS “black boxes” called Event Data Recorders (“EDR”) that collect information about velocity, direction, and seat belt use in motor vehicles, and distribute it to insurance companies, police, and other third parties. As a result, EPIC warns that drivers will soon have to become accustomed to their cars revealing highly personal information about them, such as “frequency and location of hospital trips, therapy sessions, personal visits, or even daily lunch habits.”

The CDD also submitted comments to the FTC this past weekend identifying transactions in specific areas of concern such as finances, health, ethnicity/race, and the youth. For example, the CDD mentioned the danger that a patient’s “health journey” may be tracked, analyzed, and sometimes even “offered up to pharmaceutical companies, surgery centers and other medical marketers.” The CDD thinks that consumers may also be “targeted on the spot for payday loans” by financial mobile marketers when entering a specific geographic location.

Like corporate efforts to capitalize on Big Data, adapting to the “Internet of Things” is a current business necessity. Not only is it integral to keep up with the advances of smart devices and integrate them into business for efficiency, but the information and feedback obtained from smart devices can also prove to be immensely beneficial for better understanding consumer habits. At the same time, companies must be mindful of the types of data they collect and how they use the information, and must also ensure that the necessary disclosures are given to consumers.


Research and drafting assistance for this post was provided by Reed Smith Summer Associate Sulina Gabale.