Can Your ‘Smart’ Appliances Be Trusted with Your Personal Data? Probably Not…

By and | September 2, 2016

Your fridge is getting so smart, security-software maker Kaspersky Lab thinks you probably shouldn’t trust it.

As makers of household appliances fill their machines with computer chips to make them smarter, consumers and privacy watchdogs should beware the data collected by these objects and how it’s used, Marco Preuss, a director on Kaspersky’s global research and analysis team in Europe, said at the IFA consumer electronics conference in Berlin.

“A fridge is no longer only a fridge, it’s now also a sensor collecting private information,” Preuss said. “Vendors need to say what data they collected, where it’s stored and who’s using it, and regulators need to work on standards and requirements to make companies more transparent about this. It’s the only way to bring consumer trust back.”

The search engines and social networks of the world have made consumers more aware that information is being collected about their behavior and used for commercial purposes. The growth of the so-called Internet of Things will lead to millions of appliances coming online and harvesting data about people’s habits in their homes.

At IFA, Samsung Electronics Co. showed off a refrigerator that sends statistics and pictures of the food inside to your phone. A 21.5-inch display lets family members leave each other messages, order groceries and share their calendars. Qingdao Haier Co., the Chinese company that bought GE’s appliances business, introduced a cloud-based robot to manage smart appliances and a mini-fridge that delivers chilled beverages via remote control.

Kaspersky said manufacturers could learn a lot about consumers from the data that transits through such objects, and third parties would be very interested in getting access.

“Do you really want your health insurance provider to know if your fridge has only beer and chocolate in it?” Preuss said. “Vendors need to think about the privacy of such information. Not everything connected and gathering data is allowed to share it.”

Arcelik AS, Turkey’s biggest maker of home appliances, unveiled a kitchen system that links with a smartphone and projects virtual control panels on counter-tops, removing the need for physical buttons and handles.

Connected appliances can be found beyond the kitchen, and Kaspersky highlighted risks from objects such as power meters that “can know what you’re doing at home, when you sleep and when you leave the house, or even what TV show you’re watching.”

A majority of German consumers feel using digital tools exposes their privacy, according to a Kaspersky survey published in August. Of all respondents, 71 percent said they’re worried about internet companies collecting their personal data, and nearly 1 in 2 respondents said they had negative feelings about the digital future.

For software and services companies, from Kaspersky to Symantec Corp. and Microsoft Corp., more objects coming online may be an opportunity to expand their own businesses.

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