ces2017

Today was the first official day of 2017’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, and I walked the show floor to see this year’s upcoming products and meditate on their privacy implications. I’m a nerd and geek at my core, and this was my first time at CES, so I was excited.

The first stop was a small section dedicated to technology for mothers and babies. The very limited number of companies was surprising to me, but one vendor told me this was because a) CES had only begun this topic area last year, and b) there were already well-established mother/baby technology shows elsewhere, and CES was seen to be both expensive and lacking in a critical mass of interested clientele. The first company I encountered was Mamava, who made privacy booths for mothers to express breast milk. Mainly, as a technology, this was about physical privacy rather4 than informational privacy, though there were some IoT-like features in the form of mobile phone-based unlocking and awareness of who was inside the booth. Next was a company called Bloomlife, who made what they claimed was the first IoT contraction sensor for consumer use. My presumption is that until the data they collect is shared with a HIPAA-covered entity, they would not be subject to HIPAA themselves, which is yet another glaring problem with sectoral privacy legislation. The mother/baby area was paired with beauty products, and aside from impressive wearable, self-contained breast pumps and questionable laser hair regrowth solutions, there wasn’t much interesting.

Next was the main show floor of the Sands Hotel, which was dedicated to health, sports, wearables, robots, and 3D printing, and a special area for startups, university-led products, and those that received government funding. 3Honestly, not much blew me away; my inner geek was not very satisfied. From a privacy perspective, I took note of the proliferation of cameras, which is a long established trend. I encountered a British company called Lyte who made sports sunglasses with an embedded HD camera. I noted that they did not have an external light indicating that they were recording, which would be a more privacy-positive feature, supporting the principle of transparency (e.g., notification). The CEO, whom I interviewed, said that this was because their key market was sports enthusiasts, and the glasses would be used in a sports context rather than just for looking cool in public. He said that as they look towards a more general user base, they would consider such things as an indicator light. I saw a number of robots with cameras in their heads, sometimes with face recognition capabilities, which of course makes me wonder about their data collection practices, i.e., who gets that face data, and is children’s data treated with greater care.

I’m quite interested in smart jewelry, in large part because great design is quite difficult. So often, technology just looks like… more technology, so I’m always pleased to see creative, artistic IoT products. One caught my eye today: the Leaf, by Bellabeat, which is an activity, sleep, stress, and menstrual cycle tracker. One of the touted features of the IoT is its unobtrusiveness, and the Leaf certainly makes its technology disappear.

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The product that stood out the most for me today was not about data collection, networking, or connecting the physical world to the virtual one. It’s called the Gyenno Spoon, and it does one thing: it helps people with Parkinson’s and other tremors to use a spoon. That’s it. The video below illustrates how profoundly difficult it is to eat for people who suffer from tremors, and shows how an advancement like the Gyenno Spoon can improve well-being and dignity. I’ve been working in technology for over 20 years, and few things have moved me as much as this.

Finally, I chatted with a body camera 8manufacturer who was moving from supplying law enforcement to selling his product to other professionals. In my interview with the founder, he told me how lawyers, doctors, and tow truck drivers wanted a device to record their interactions so as to have evidence of their activities and to prevent harassment. Again, the theme of camera proliferation appeared, and I can’t help but wonder about the continuing normalization of citizens video surveilling each other. I suppose it’s time to read more about surveillance studies. At least the Venture body camera has a recording indicator light.

Tomorrow, the main show floor at the Las Vegas Convention Center! Now, I’m off to find a buffet.

Conference Data Protection Intimacy Law Transparency Wearables

wearable-iot

Researchers at American University and the Center for Digital Democracy have today released a report on wearable eHealth devices, which represent a rapidly-growing IoT sector.

Titled Health Wearable Devices in the Big Data Era: Ensuring Privacy, Security & Consumer Protection (download PDF here), the 122 pages cover privacy and security threats, the Big Data marketplace, predictive/targeting methods, the legal and regulatory environment, and an extensive section on promoting ethical data practices. The intro to the report states:

The report documents a number of current digital health marketing practices that threaten the privacy of consumer health information, including condition targeting, look-alike modeling, predictive analytics, scoring, and the real-time buying and selling of individual consumers.

The potential range of intensely personal data obtainable from wearable (not to mention implantable) devices is what makes them such a potent marketing tool:

An emerging set of techniques will be designed to harness the unique capabilities of wearables—such as biosensors that track bodily functions, and “haptic technology” that enables users to “feel” actual body sensations. Pharmaceutical companies are poised to be among the major beneficiaries of wearable marketing. (p.4)

Recognizing the cost-saving and preventative benefits of eHealth devices, the report calls urgently for “meaningful, effective and enforceable safeguards” at the foundations of the connected-health system. Regulation in the U.S. is currently “weak and fragmented,” it notes, and is totally unprepared for sophisticated technologies capable of “unprecedented” data collection.

Data Ownership Data Protection Intimacy Law Policy Privacy by Design Wearables

Privacy and consumer watchdog groups have filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission about toys that are insecure enough to be used to spy on children easily. The targets of the complaint are Genesis Toys, the maker of My Friend Cayla and i-Que, and Nuance Communications, a third-party provider of voice recognition technology who also supplies products to law enforcement and the intelligence community. 

The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), the Center for Digital Democracy, the Consumers Union and others have jointly filed the complaint, which boldly states in the introduction:

This complaint concerns toys that spy. By purpose and design, these toys record and collect the private conversations of young children without any limitations on collection, use, or disclosure of this personal information. The toys subject young children to ongoing surveillance and are deployed in homes across the United States without any meaningful data protection standards. They pose an imminent and immediate threat to the safety and security of children in the United States.

The complaint requests that the FTC investigate Genesis Toys for several problematic issues, ranging from easy unauthorized Bluetooth connections to the toys within a 50-foot range, to the difficulty of locating the Terms of Service. Many findings appear to violate the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) and FTC rules prohibiting unfair and deceptive practices. These include collection of data from children younger than 13, vague descriptions of voice collection practices in the Privacy Policies, and contradictory/misleading information regarding third-party access to voice recordings.
 
Cayla’s companion app invites children to input their physical location, as well as their names, parents’ names, school, and their favorite TV shows, meals and toys. The complaint highlights that it’s unclear how long the manufacturer will hold this data, and if they will ever delete it even if requested:
The Privacy Policies for Cayla and i-Que state that Genesis does not retain personal information for “longer than is necessary.” The scope of what is “necessary” is undefined. Genesis permits users to request deletion of personal information the company holds about them, but advises users that “we may need to keep that information for legitimate business or legal purposes.”
Disturbingly, the complaint notes that each of the toys can be heavily compromised by two unauthorized phones working in tandem:
Researchers discovered that by connecting one phone to the doll through the insecure Bluetooth connection and calling that phone with a second phone, they were able to both converse with and covertly listen to conversations collected through the My Friend Cayla and i-Que toys.
BEUC, a European consumer organisation, have today joined the effort against the manufacturers by complaining to the European Commission, the EU network of national data protection authorities, and the International Consumer Protection and Enforcement Network.

It should be noted that Danelle Dobbins, then a Master’s student at Washington University in St. Louis, wrote about Cayla’s glaring security problems in a 2015 paper. Dobbins draws attention to the work of Ken Munro, a security specialist who hacked Cayla at the beginning of 2015 as seen in the below video (via the BBC).

The complaint further notes that children are being surreptitiously marketed to:

Researchers discovered that My Friend Cayla is pre-programmed with dozens of phrases that reference Disneyworld and Disney movies. For example, Cayla tells children that her favorite movie is Disney’s The Little Mermaid and her favorite song is “Let it Go,” from Disney’s Frozen. Cayla also tells children she loves going to Disneyland and wants to go to Epcot in Disneyworld.

This product placement is not disclosed and is difficult for young children to recognize as advertising. Studies show that children have a significantly harder time identifying advertising when it’s not clearly distinguished from programming.

The toys’ voice recognition feature comes from Nuance, who also offers products and services to law enforcement and intelligence agencies. The most disturbing element of the complaint is the suggestion that children’s personal data and interactions could end up being used in the development of Nuance’s intelligence and law enforcement products:

Nuance uses the voice and text information it collects to “develop, tune, enhance, and improve Nuance services and products.”… Nuance’s products and services include voice biometric solutions sold to military, intelligence, and law enforcement agencies…. The use of children’s voice and text information to enhance products and services sold to military, intelligence, and law enforcement agencies creates a substantial risk of harm because children may be unfairly targeted by these organizations if their voices are inaccurately matched to recordings obtained by these organizations.

This could be one of those moments that causes a policy reaction. While negative press may have an impact on the individual companies and their sectors, the only methods that can truly help prevent more of these kinds of unsafe products is regulation and the threat of lawsuit. Let’s hope that policymakers and regulators use this opportunity to scare other toy makers, demonstrate the power of sanction, punish the bad actors, and increase the potency of data security and children’s safety regulation.

Coalitions & Consortia Data Protection Intimacy Law Privacy by Design Security Toys

IoT Privacy Forum founder Gilad Rosner features in the latest episode of O’Reilly’s Hardware Podcast, discussing his research for the British government, and the differences between European and US privacy cultures.

On his work used by the UK Parliament (paraphrased in parts):

That research was when the UK government put out a call and said, we’d like to vacuum up a lot of social media data and analyze it for government purposes: “beneficial outcomes” rather than law enforcement. Trying to look at data and come up with new information that would theoretically be beneficial to society. They were wondering how they’d go about it — whether “public” social media posts could present ethical problems when inhaling all that data for analysis. The answer is: yes, there are ethical problems here, because even though information is set to “public”, there’s a concept of respecting the context in which the data was uploaded, or volunteered. When I tweet, I’m not necessarily expecting the government to mine that information about me.

When it comes to privacy and data protection, especially with a large actor like the government, one of the most important concerns is procedural safeguards. Governments have ideas all the time, often good ideas, but the apparatus of implementing these ideas is very large, bureaucratic, and diffuse. So what constrains these activities, to make sure they’re being done securely, in line with existing privacy regulations, and with people being sensitive to things not necessarily covered by regulation, but still potentially worrisome? How do we come up with ways of letting good ideas happen, but under control?

Academics Data Protection Law Policy Power Transparency

This Tuesday, Dr Gilad Rosner, founder of the IoT Privacy Forum, will be doing a free one hour webcast called Privacy, Society & the Internet of Things. It’s an exploration of the many meanings of ‘privacy,’ the privacy risks implied by a world of connected devices, and some of the frameworks emerging to address those risks. The webcast will be broadcast live at 10am PT / 1pm ET / 6pm GMT. Register for it here: http://www.oreilly.com/pub/e/3582

Conference Law Policy Privacy by Design

In this new article for O’Reilly, IoT Privacy Forum Founder Dr Gilad Rosner discusses how the IoT amplifies the problems of Notice & Choice and Consent. Academics and experts have long been aware of their failure as privacy protection strategies, and some have called for them to be eliminated in favor of a controversial policy: letting businesses choose which data uses are and are not appropriate. The article examines the pros and cons of this approach with regard to connected devices.

https://www.oreilly.com/ideas/in-the-age-of-connected-devices-will-our-privacy-regulations-be-good-enough

Data Protection Law Policy

While waiting for a taxi in Barcelona, my friend, irritated at waiting for one to appear, told me that Uber was made illegal in Spain. However, she was not 100% sure it was still illegal; perhaps something had changed. To answer this, she took the most direct route and opened Uber on her phone: Nope, we could not order transportation. I saw this moment as a wonderful inversion of that 90s internet tenet, ‘code is law.’ The main idea is that the architectures of electronic systems perform similar regulation of behavior as law does in the physical, social realm. In some of the more utopian and techno-deterministic formulations of this idea, the world of paper laws and hoary legislative debates would crumble before the might of the interweb and its meritocratic ways. Opening Uber on her phone to see if it could sell its wares in the Catalan capital was a wonderful reminder of the over-exaggeration of regulation’s untimely demise. Academics love the word, ‘tension,’ and companies like Uber and Airbnb cause mountains of it. They’re such good case studies for regulation, perturbing existing regimes such as hotel taxation and taxi passenger safety, stepping on toes economic and political. The earliest discussions of the social impact of the internet invoked its borderless character and the inevitable clashes that would arise with national sovereignty. That tension is is alive and well, visible in US alarmism over the coming EU General Data Protection Regulation, in the regulatory tussle over Uber and its so-called sharing economy kin, and in the recent invalidation of the Safe Harbor framework. Law may move slowly, but it still packs a punch.

Law Policy Power

The WA State House Technology & Economic Development Committee passed a reasonable drone privacy bill last week. Basically, you can’t fly a drone onto someone’s private property and record them without their consent. Obviously, such an intent is more easily implemented when you have houses with property lines rather than windowed apartment buildings, but still, it’s a good addition to the fledgling body of drone privacy law. There was clearly some thought and technical advice put into the bill, as evidenced by the definition of “active sensing device”: “including, but not limited to, cameras, thermal detectors, microphones, chemical detectors, radiation gauges, and wireless receivers in any frequency.” The bill’s definition of personal information (note, not PII) is similarly broad: “Any information that describes, locates, or indexes anything about a person including, but not limited to, his or her social security number, driver’s license number, agency-issued identification number, student identification number, real or personal property holdings derived from tax returns, and his or her education, financial transactions, medical history, ancestry, religion, political ideology, or criminal or employment record,” as well as of course image. Willful violation of the proposed law is a misdemeanor, and victims can sue for $5,000 or actual damages plus attorney’s fees.

http://lawfilesext.leg.wa.gov/biennium/2015-16/Pdf/Bills/House%20Bills/1093-S.pdf

Drones Law