FTC workshop considers privacy, security on the Internet of Things

At a public workshop in Washington last week, the FTC considered the implications of the Internet of Things for issues of digital privacy and security.

Panelists included representatives from tech startups, chip manufacturers, universities, government agencies, and more. Archive video of the event is now available online in four parts.

The keynote was delivered by Vint Cerf, widely known as the “Father of the Internet” and currently the Chief Internet Evangelist at Google.

“It will be increasingly difficult for us to achieve privacy,” Cerf said in response to a question. On the other hand, he said, “[our current notion of] privacy may actually be an anomaly,” a product of how our behaviors and social intuitions have been influenced by the relative anonymity of big cities in the late 20th century. For most of human history, by contrast, most people lived in small communities where anonymity and privacy were hard to maintain.

Without dismissing concerns about surveillance technologies, Cerf said, “our social behavior also is quite damaging with regard to privacy, and the technology that we use today has far out-raced our social intuition.” It will be a long and difficult process “to develop social conventions that are more respectful of people’s privacy” in the digital age, he said.

Other panelists spoke about emerging technologies for home innovation, health and fitness, and transportation, and discussed the kinds of data being collected and the resulting privacy and security implications in each area.

The FTC is now seeking public comment on issues raised at the workshop. The deadline for submissions is Jan. 10.

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