But what if you don't like it? "If you have a feeling someone is watching you every time you flush your toilet or run your dishwasher, that's a new level of intrusion that we haven't seen before," says Jay Stanley, a senior policy analyst for the American Civil Liberties Union. The Internet of Things will make it harder to keep one's private life private.
Already, most people don't bother to read website privacy policies—but at least there is something to read. Many of the new devices are small and don't even have screens, making it more difficult to inform users about what sorts of information might be collected, or to obtain their consent. Currently, many Internet of Things products rely on the owner's smartphone as a central controller. So just like mobile apps can use pop-up windows to get consent for location tracking, Internet of Things devices can send alerts to people's phones when they're about to collect sensitive information. But connected devices will increasingly untether themselves from phones.
"How do you give informed consent to a sock?" asks Alvaro Bedoya, the executive director for the Center on Privacy and Technology at Georgetown University. "I don't know."
Because much of the monitoring will take place in the background, customers are less likely to realize their data is being collected. You're probably aware that you've provided a lot of data about yourself on social-media sites like Facebook, but the Internet of Things will be a constant and ubiquitous presence that many of us won't even think about. When you're not actually deciding what information to share, you're naturally less guarded about what you're sharing. You'll also know less about who you might be sharing it with.
The upshot is clear enough: "Soon, everything we do, both online and offline, will be recorded and stored forever," security technologist Bruce Schneier, a fellow at the Berkman Center at Harvard University, wrote in 2013. "The only question remaining is who will have access to all this information, and under what rules."
LAST APRIL IN HEBRON, KENTUCKY, Adam and Heather Schreck were awakened at midnight by the sound of a man's voice in their 10-month-old daughter's room. "Wake up, baby!" the voice was yelling. Adam rushed into the room, but no one was there. Then the family's baby-monitoring camera pivoted to look straight at him, and the same voice began hollering "some bad things [and] some obscenities," as he told a local Fox TV station. Adam quickly unplugged the camera, but quieting the voice did little to soothe his nerves. Clearly, a stranger (or strangers) had been watching his family through the camera, but he had no idea who it was or how long they'd been tuned in.
Chase Rhymes, the chief operating officer of Foscam, which made the camera, says his company wasn't to blame. The Shrecks, he says, failed to change the camera's default password from "admin," making it easy prey for hackers, who could just look up the online manual and find the default setting. Foscam has subsequently altered its security regime, requiring customers to change the default password before the cameras will work. "I think the story really is that, in the Internet of Things and the connected home, your home is more vulnerable now than it was prior," Rhymes says.