An individual’s data is valuable. Both to them and the organisations that use it to provide and improve their services. But does anyone know exactly how much of their data is collected, by who, and for what purpose?
According to researchers at the University of Oxford, the number of Android apps harvesting user data and feeding it back to parent company Google is “out of control”.
Over the last few years, there has been an explosion of data profiling by companies, public bodies and even governments. Our data protection experts discuss how your data privacy could be at risk in your home.
Data privacy at home
You might expect to be free from data collection in your home. But in our connected online world, this is far from the truth. Your exposure to data harvesting depends on the number and type of smart devices that you own. But a home equipped fully with intelligent devices has the potential to know everything about you. For example:
- Smart garage door sensors can track when you leave for work
- Smart locks know when your front door bolt is engaged
- A smart fridge knows what you like to eat – and how much
- Heating and lighting controls provide data on when you are at home
- Smart media devices know what you watch, what games you play, and what music you listen to
- Smart vacuums collect information about the layout of your home
- Smart doorbells can identify your visitors (e.g. via vehicle licence plates).
And the list goes on.
Of course, this data can help us to improve our lives (e.g. energy savings). But what if there was a data breach and that information fell into the hands of cybercriminals, advertisers or those with a political agenda?
Smart devices are sharing your personal data with third parties
Even without the risk of a data breach, we should all know how much of our data is being collected and used. Especially as the likes of Amazon and Google are both increasing the amount of data they gather about their customers.
Furthermore, while we might think that any data collected isn’t shared with anyone other than the companies that provide the smart products, this isn’t necessarily true.
A study examined the data sharing activities of 81 different smart devices commonly found in people’s homes and discovered that 72 shared data with third parties completely unrelated to the original manufacturer. Staggeringly, the data shared included IP addresses, device specifications and configurations, usage habits, and location data. Making matters worse, 30 of the 81 devices shared this information without any encryption.
We should all be worried about what could happen if this information falls into the wrong hands.
Is someone listening?
When talking about privacy in the home, we should also think about smart devices such as Amazon’s Alexa. Of course, there are “conspiracy theories” that by using devices that use microphones someone might be listening but, while the big tech companies might tell us that this is nonsense, sometimes people are paranoid for a reason.
One report revealed that Amazon employs people to listen to voice recordings captured in Echo owners’ homes. Echo is an Alexa-powered smart speaker. The recordings are used to help improve Alexa’s understanding of human speech and help it to better respond to commands. Worryingly, according to the report, listeners sometimes pick up and share things Echo owners likely would rather stay private. For example, when people discuss private matters such as bank details and intimate conversations.