Regulator warns: Connected devices will only succeed with trust

People around the globe won’t embrace new cars, refrigerators, thermostats or other “smart” devices that connect to the Internet if they don’t trust them, the head of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) warned on Monday.

The rise of connected devices known as the “Internet of Things” could revolutionize practically every sector in America, FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez said at a conference about the trend. But, she added, it won't if people fear that detailed, sensitive data about their lives are being used to sell them ads or are not properly protected.

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“Though it would take a lot to loosen the smartphone from our fists or pry the fitness tracker from our wrists, I believe consumers will balk before bringing connected devices into their homes, cars, and workplaces if they do not believe their privacy will be respected,” she said, according to prepared remarks.

Ramirez laid out a prescription for companies to respond to the possible lack of trust.

First and foremost, companies should “put security front and center,” she said, noting that many developers are “underinvesting” in protecting people’s data.

“Any device hooked up to the Internet is vulnerable to hijack," Ramirez warned.

Additionally, companies should limit what kinds of information they collect about people, delete collected information once it is no longer useful and be sure that people know how their data are being used, with easy ways to adjust settings.

“Consumers will enthusiastically invite the ‘Internet of Things’ into their homes, cars, and workplaces only if they are confident that they remain in control over their data,” Ramirez said.

The number of connected devices is expected to grow to an estimated 25 billion machines next year.