FTC Urges Internet of Things Security Investment

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By Paul Stinson

Nov. 5 — The economic impact of the Internet of things is significant and the Federal Trade Commission is “watching very carefully” how consumer trust in security drives demand, Commissioner Terrell McSweeny told Bloomberg BNA Nov. 5.

Potential data vulnerabilities of products connected to the Internet, including appliances, cars and wearables are an emerging area of concern, she said on the sidelines of the FTC’s Start with Security Conference in Austin, Texas.

The conference was aimed at providing security information to technology startup companies and application developers and was co-sponsored by the University of Texas Robert S. Strauss Center and the Center for Identity.

“We’re going to be in the billions of dollars” for Internet of things devices in the next two to five years, McSweeny said.

There will be “an exponential increase in connected products in people’s daily lives—which is terrific—but we won’t actually achieve the economic benefits” of the Internet of things “if consumers don’t trust the stuff,” she said. Consumers “won't trust it if they don’t feel the products are secure or can’t trust the privacy promises that are being made to them.”

Prevention Over Enforcement 

McSweeny said the FTC wanted people to be ahead of the curve in the emerging Internet of things industry. The commission is hoping to effectively educate about data security in advance and is making an effort to avoid a situation of bringing in enforcement actions after information is compromised or privacy violated.

Security should be a “big value” to a company in order to build consumer trust. “I think the security has to be an area of concern particularly for companies that are creating consumer-facing products whether they are software products, applications or hardware that’s connected to the Internet,” she said.

“So what we’re trying to do is get as much information into the hands of people that are making products as we can about this issue, recognizing that some folks have a high degree of awareness and really good security hygiene and practices and others are catching up to that.”

Security efforts by companies now amounts to a down payment on fewer headaches in the future, McSweeny said.

The FTC is trying to avoid a scenario where 10 years from now “I’m telling you about the 350 data security actions that we’ve now brought because of bad practices,” she said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Paul Stinson in Austin, Texas at pstinson@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Donald G. Aplin at daplin@bna.com