Beware Household Gadgets That Can Take Control And “Spy” On You

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Makers of connected devices for the Internet of Things must focus on security to protect consumers’ privacy

By Charles Orton Jones. Published on on June 28, 2015


“The Samsung TV incident was a massive wake-up call. An investigation in February revealed some Samsung smart TVs could be “spying on customers”. A clause in the privacy policy advised buyers that spoken words could be “captured and transmitted to a third party”. The media exploded with indignation. Orwell’s 1984 was cited in which telescreens track to citizens’ every move and word. Will your TV report you if you mention your tax affairs? Or sell leads to marketing companies if you mention product names?

When the story broke, Samsung admitted it was logging users’ activity and voice commands, but claimed users agreed to in the terms and conditions, and had enabled the function when setting up their TV. The option could be turned off.

In truth, Samsung was engaging in what many companies do, which is to learn from voice commands in order to improve the service. Use Siri on an iPhone and something similar is taking place. But the episode publicised just how dangerous it could be to install internet-connected devices.”

“Should we be pessimists about IoT? Hongwen Zhang, co-chairman of OpenCloud Connect, the industry alliance of cloud and IoT makers, says even if doubters are right, consumers will still enjoy using IoT devices. “Your above items of threat are all valid. However, the benefits of IoT overweigh all these fears. We have passed the point of no return in our evolution path with IoT,” he says.

He warns the real danger isn’t nosy governments or teenage hackers. But something more sinister – artificial intelligence.

Dr Zhang admits this: “On the speculation spectrum, the irony is that we will soon able to build terminators before we figure out how to do time travel. The evil actors may not be humans but ‘superintelligence’ as described by Professor Nick Bostrom of Oxford University in his book Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies. Let’s hope humanity avoids those bad paths that lead to extinction.”

He adds sensibly: “We are good at finding cures.” If he’s wrong, dodgy kettles and sweary dolls would be the least of our worries.”

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