The Effect of the Internet of Things on User Privacy: Part 1

The Internet of Things will inevitably destroy user privacy.

In a debate moderated by Madeline Bennett, editor of The INQUIRER, tech commentator Chris Merriman went head to head with Louise Taylor, senior associate at law firm Taylor Wessing, over the ramifications of the impending IoT. With Taylor in the orange corner, over in the blue corner Merriman adamantly defended the notion that the broad reach of the IoT will result in a widespread loss of individual privacy.


Bennett prefaced the debate with an explanation of the origins of the IoT, followed by the specific points the debaters would be addressing. Ultimately, the decision to be made lies in sacrificing privacy for the advantages of connected technology or preserving private information by forsaking emerging devices. But can there be any middle ground?

Merriman doesn’t think so. “We’ve all fallen victim to an app that has announced our intentions to the world when we didn’t realise we’d allowed it to. Because the Internet of Things is a concept with no common standards, an ideal with a million rules and none, a mixture of implied consent and rules that are far too long to read every time we make a move, we’re quite often left exposed by our own hand. And advertisers have started to realise the massive potential of all this data being collected, and how it can be used to reach consumers.”

The purpose of the debate was to pit a tech perspective against a legal perspective since both will play integral roles in our handling of the IoT. And Merriman was careful to address the legality behind the proliferation of connected devices. “...It only takes one data leak and the whole Internet of Things is open to abuse. But worse than that, the law can’t even protect us because half the time we’ve consented to our data being used in this way.” He proceeded to argue that even if the law is there to keep us safe, if information has already been disseminated enough to enter public domain, there’s little to be done. “The jack doesn't go back in the box as easily as it popped out.”


“My point is, even if the law can protect us from criminals who misuse our data—and I still maintain that ‘the lawyers will get you’ is not going to deter the average criminal—the one thing that the legal system can't protect us from is ourselves. Unless we understand exactly what we're waivering [sic] when we tick a box, then we could be giving up everything, from medical information, through to the intellectual copyright on our own selfies. You could be the most streetwise, cyber-smart, law-savvy citizen on the planet, but more and more you are going to be asked to give permission to share information about yourself in order to make the Internet of Things work, and each and every one will come with a long list of terms and conditions written in legalese. We can't all have a lawyer present to dissect them every time, yet if you agree to them without reading each and every line, you may well be put in a position where no lawyer can help you anyway, because you consented, and what's more they have proof you consented to have your data used in this way.”

Stay tuned for the second part of this blog series, which will discuss Taylor’s rebuttal and justifications as to why the IoT won’t signal the demise of user privacy. In addition, Karen Lomas, Intel’s own IoT curator and director for strategy and business transformation, lends her perspective on counteracting the potentially harmful side effects of the IoT.

For more on the IoT, see why intelligence inside is key.

Which side do you err on when it comes to user privacy? Are you in the blue corner or the orange corner? Comment below or join the conversation on Twitter with the hashtags below: