FTC casting wary glance at Internet of Things

Technology and connectivity options for the so-called Internet of Things (IoT) are still being envisioned and created, but that is not stopping the U.S. Federal Trade Commission from jumping in to regulate it.

On Nov. 19, the FTC is scheduled to hold a public workshop to address "consumer privacy and security issues posed by the growing connectivity of consumer devices, such as cars, appliances, and medical devices."

The agency sought input regarding these issues through June 1, seeking public comment on the basics, such as, "What are the various technologies that enable this connectivity (e.g., RFID, barcodes, wired and wireless connections)?" and "How should privacy risks be weighed against potential societal benefits?"

In comments filed with the FTC, wireless industry trade group CTIA noted that a variety of communications technologies enable IoT connectivity, "each of which presents different privacy and security issues." Among those cited were wired and wireless (terrestrial and satellite) wide-area networks, unlicensed Wi-Fi networks, near field communications, Bluetooth and RFID.

Given its membership roster of wireless carriers, it is not surprising that CTIA called for the FTC to keep an open mind regarding regulation. "Rigid regulatory burdens could stifle technological innovation and discourage the development of the Internet of Things. Flexible industry best practices and regulatory policy guidelines, however, will enable the wireless industry to both protect the privacy and security of consumer data and bring consumers the innovative products and services that will improve quality of life, increase efficiency, and grow the economy."

Meanwhile, the FTC appears to be expanding its definition of sensitive data that requires higher levels of user consent and protections. According to an article written by law firm Hogan Lovells for Lexology, the categories of such data as defined in the agency's 2012 Privacy Report include Social Security numbers, precise geolocation data, financial records, health information and information about children.

However, Hogan Lovells said a recent FTC decision regarding public exposure of private video feeds delivered over TRENDNet's networking equipment indicates that the FTC is broadening its view of sensitive data beyond specific categories. That appears to open the door to additional FTC scrutiny over companies developing products and services for the IoT.

For more:
- see this Lexology article
- see this GigaOM article

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