Monday, December 1, 2014

Privacy, the Internet of Things, and Blenders

Privacy, the Internet of Things, and Blenders

From this:
To this:

One of the course readings for this week was proclaiming the virtues and business advantages of the internet of things.  How more and more devices are going to be connected to the internet, giving manufacturers more information to design and produce better products.  While there certainly are some advantages to be had (for both producers and consumers) there are also some potential issues, specifically privacy.  What if I dont want my brand new Blendtec blender to message Blendtec headquarters to tell them about how I use my blender?  Sure they could use that information to learn that I never use anything besides the pulse buttons which is something they could then incorporate into future designs, but at what cost?

The article gave the notion of privacy mere lip service before going on about all the advantages the internet of things provides.  One sentence in a whole article that said something to the effect of (paraphrased) "while there would be privacy implications its no big deal".  To some it might not be, but to others it certainly is.  During Thanksgiving I was presented the opportunity to ask my very opinionated family what they thought.  For the example I used the blender telling Blendtec headquarters about your blending usage/habits.  This is probably one of the least intrusive privacy violations out here, especially compared to communicating toilets, communicating pill dispensers, or communicating bathroom scale. 

My mother had the strongest opinions about the blender.  She simply did not want a blender knowing anything about her, and used the word "creepy" atleast six different times as she explained why she didn't want her blender on the internet.  In her view that is totally private (whether important or not).  Even though she acknowledged it would help Blendtec design better blenders at less cost, should would rather pay slightly more and have them find some other way to determine customer preferences for blender usage. 

Conversely my cousins really didn't care at all.  This could partially be a generational thing, as me and my cousins my age have all grown up with connected technology.  Our definition of privacy may be totally different, as noted by my aunt who cited the stuff we post to Facebook.  It would seem we want privacy in our lives, but we also want the ability to share whatever we want via un-private channels, even if that concept seems entirely foreign to our parents.  I would rather have a better blender (higher quality at the same price) than a private blender.  Personally I don't care who knows about my blending habits.

As companies go forward they should do more than just brush off privacy concerns.  While there are certainly advantages for producers, manufacturers, and suppliers, these should be weighed with the value of privacy to consumers.  It is clear there are many out there that consider their privacy a priority, and the will let companies know that by how they spend their money.

My question to you is what devices in your home or that you use frequently would you be comfortable having connected to the internet?  Where would you draw the privacy line?  Is it with communicating blenders?  Communicating lamps?  Communicating toilets?  Communicating chairs?  Would it bother you if companies knew how much time you spent sitting around or how many times you flushed during your last visit to the loo?  As we go forward we may have to actually answer these questions as we look to purchase products, so start thinking about it now!

In case you haven't seen it yet, check out Blendtec's "Will it blend" series.  His grin at 1:56 is just about the most perfect thing ever:


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