The Creepy - Utility Balance of the Internet of Things

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By Tera Brostoff

Oct. 19 — Every day we are tracked, our words and movements recorded and the data stored for who knows how long and who knows where. The listeners and recorders are in our homes, our cars and our pockets. This concept not only sounds creepy, but also appears to be a huge invasion of privacy, right?

But that all depends on our expectations based on the current technology’s capability, a panel of experts on the Internet of Things explained at The Masters Conference Oct. 18. IoT is shorthand for the inter-networking of “smart devices” that contain electronics, software and sensors that allow these devices to communicate and collect data.

The panel, moderated by Charlie Platt at iDiscovery Solutions Inc., said that whether device users find a specific type of tracking or surveillance to be “too creepy” is directly related to the convenience that type of surveillance offers.

And while we are all giving up privacy for convenience, our voluntarily-shared data is adding up a story about us.

Internet of Things

Platt said that there are millions of devices that comprise the internet of things, and their use is skyrocketing. The sensors they contain are highly sensitive and not only track users’ whereabouts, but now they can record personal conversations.

It can be a bit off-putting, the panelists quipped, when a married couple is merely discussing the possibility of having children and coupons appear in the mail for diapers. The culprit in this case, is a device with a microphone and a recording element.

“Four or five years ago, G-Mail said it would start reading all our e-mails, and that was considered highly creepy,” Platt said. “But now we are all over that.”

Platt asked, how will we feel in five years about the type of surveillance we find disturbing today?

Don Myers, of Littler Mendelson P.C. in Philadelphia, talked about the legal implications of this surveillance and the resulting collected data.

“Labor and employment defense is what I do,” Myers said. “Ten years ago we’d get four documents in an employment production.”

Those documents would include the job application and a resume.

But today, data collected from sensors such as the global-positioning sytem in a car or the RFID chip in a employee’s ID card, provide a host of information that is valuable in these disputes.

“For example, we now have your GPS data saying that you were at McDonald’s for four hours during the middle of the work day,” Myers explained.

Nick Kaywork, unit chief at the U.S. government, is a former marine. He called the collection of personal data a “pattern of life,” and explained that in war, the military will use data to create a pattern of life on a specific target.

Your phone, your car or even your refrigerator is creating a “pattern of life” on you. But the question of who is looking at that data and how its being stored is something you might not consider until you face litigation.

To contact the reporter on this story: Tera Brostoff in Washington at tbrostoff@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Carol Eoannou at ceoannou@bna.com

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