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Notes Privacy Technology

Smart Surveillance Devices as Gift Giving

Tech electronic gadgets are the most desired gift items during the holidays. It’s likely that some of our wishes to have such gadgets might have been fulfilled by Santa in this holiday season.

Personal Smart Gadgets

The smartphones, iPads, smartwatches top among our dearly loved electronic gadgets which we carry along with us daily in our pockets or purses. We are wired to such smart devices even when walking on the streets by constantly checking or making updates.

Home Smart Gadgets

Now most of our homes are also connected with smart devices like WiFi, door bell, DNA test kits, smart speakers (Alexa, Google Home & Apple HomePod ) and smart televisions. The PC magazine has a list of best home smart devices of 2019 including home surveillance cameras, smart locks, smart heating & cooling, smart lighting, smart kitchen appliances & smart outdoor gears.

Our Addiction to Smart Devices

We are using smart devices not for ease & convenience but we rely on them for our routine daily activities (eg. grocery list, taxes, daily news, thermostat, smart health & fitness gears, etc). Our family members are connected with loved ones & friends through social media like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and others.

There is huge concern these days about the potential impact of social media and 24/7 tech use on today’s teens, including linking social media use to technology addiction, the decay of in-person social skills, and multiple harms to kids’ mental well-being.

James Steyer, CEO of Common Sense Media on USA Today

Smart Devices as Surveillance Tools

There is a concern among privacy advocates that whether big tech companies and/or our governments are turning smart devices into a massive surveillance network? Even if their immense potentials is not realized now but their concern arises from “how governments or big tech will eventually wake up to use them as backdoor mass surveillance”.

The Times’ Privacy Project reporter Alex Kingsbury writes in his recent OpEd that “as 2019 comes to a close, millions of new spying devices are headed for American homes“. He writes that “anyone who uses devices like smartphones, smart speakers and smart televisions has only the illusion of control when it comes to protecting personal privacy, because the government hasn’t seen fit to ban even the most intrusive data collection practices. ” He writes that the Pentagon has already warned military personal not use DNA kits due to security concerns. Some of his suggestions using our smart devices include:

  • Changing the user names & password on smart devices that you receive.
  • For WiFi connected devices, select products that also allow to work without WiFi connection.
  • Be aware that such surveillance gadgets are available in very discounted price due to value of the users data the device tracks.

*Privacy Not Included

The Mozilla Foundation has project named *Privacy not included to “help you shop smart—and safe—for products that connect to the internet”. The Project has prepared a list of smart products that meet minimum security standards based on data encryption, security updates, strong passwords, vulnerability management and privacy protection. This buying guide is divided into home, toys & games, smart home, entertainment, wearables, health & exercise, and pets product categories. This link shows an example of buying guide for Apple Homepod.

Resources from the Mozilla’s Internet Health Report team:

Federal Privacy Laws

Current federal laws & regulations to guard consumers’ data privacy and security appear to be not adequate. Collecting consumer information with express consumer consent, and providing consumers with access to their data is important.

The best thing to do is push for new laws, with teeth, to stop wireless companies and app developers and other corporations from abusing your personal data.

Ron Weyden, US Senator

Content of this note was inspired by Alex Kingsbury‘s The Privacy Project Op Ed Giving the Gift of Surveillance on The New York Times. Cover photo by Sebastian Scholz (Nuki) on Unsplash