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Sensors Everywhere Could Mean Privacy Nowhere, Expert Says

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Purdue University professor Eugene Spafford.

Purdue University professor Eugene Spafford says the Internet of Things will result in people giving up "a lot of our privacy, and, in fact, maybe all of it."

Credit: Purdue University

Purdue University professor Eugene Spafford, executive director of the Center for Education and Research in Information Assurance and Security, says the Internet of Things will involve microprocessors and sensors placed essentially everywhere, permanently recording data on people, often without their knowledge.

Spafford, immediate past chair and a current member of the U.S. Public Policy Council of ACM, says such data collection can be useful in such areas as energy use, healthcare decisions, and financial decisions. "The downside is that we give up a lot of our privacy, and, in fact, maybe all of it," he warns.

Spafford notes Internet microprocessors are already present in such devices as the Nest thermostat, which learns how homeowners prefer to heat or cool their homes. He says there also are Internet-connected refrigerators that inform users when groceries need to be purchased and can create a shopping list.

However, Spafford notes such information will enable companies to know when a person is at home, how many people live there, and other details. He believes it is essential that companies furnish consumer information similar to what drug companies provide with medications.

"We need a notice of the level of some of these observations, and which of these observations should we be allowed to opt out of," Spafford says. "There needs to be greater transparency about what is done with the information that's collected, the accuracy of the data, and where it's going."

From Purdue University News
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