A few weeks ago, the FTC released a report on the Internet of Things (IoT) which provides critical guidance for all companies and presents valuable information for manufacturers on designing privacy and security into their devices. This year, there are estimated to be over 25 billion connected devices – or items with sensors that communicate with each other through the Internet – and by 2020, 50 billion. With the ubiquity of IoT devices raising various concerns, the FTC has provided several recommendations.

Security

The report includes the following security recommendations for companies developing Internet of Things devices:

  • Build security into devices at the outset, rather than as an afterthought in the design process
  • Train employees about the importance of security, and ensure that security is managed at an appropriate level in the organization
  • Ensure that when outside service providers are hired, that those providers are capable of maintaining reasonable security, and provide reasonable oversight of the providers
  • When a security risk is identified, consider a “defense-in-depth” strategy whereby multiple layers of security may be used to defend against a particular risk
  • Consider measures to keep unauthorized users from accessing a consumer’s device, data, or personal information stored on the network
  • Monitor connected devices throughout their expected life cycle, and where feasible, provide security patches to cover known risks

Data Minimization

The report suggested companies consider data minimization – that is, limiting the collection of consumer data, and retaining that information only for a set period of time, and not indefinitely. Data minimization addresses two key privacy risks: first, the risk that a company with a large store of consumer data will become a more enticing target for data thieves or hackers, and second, that consumer data will be used in ways contrary to consumers’ expectations.

Notice and Choice

The FTC provided further recommendations relating to notice and choice. It is recommended that companies notify consumers and give them choices about how their information will be used, particularly when the data collection is beyond consumers’ reasonable expectations.

What Does This Mean for Device Manufacturers?

It is evident from the FTC’s report that security and data governance are important features for IoT device manufacturers to consider. Although the report suggests implementing data minimization protocols to limit the type and amount of data collected and stored, IoT device manufacturers should not be short-sighted when deciding what data to collect and store through their IoT devices. For many IoT device manufacturers, the data collected may be immensely valuable to them and other stakeholders. It would be naïve to decide not to collect certain types of data simply because there is no clear use or application of the data, the costs and risks of storing such data are cost prohibitive or because they want to reduce their exposure due to a security breach. In fact, quite often IoT device manufacturers do not realize what types of data may be useful. IoT device manufacturers would be best served by analyzing who the stakeholders of their data may be.

For instance, an IoT device manufacturer that monitors soil conditions of farms may realize that the data they collect can be useful, not only to farmers, but also to insurance companies to better understand water table levels, produce suppliers, wholesalers, and retailers to predict produce inventory, farm equipment suppliers, among others. Because of this, IoT device manufacturers should identify the stakeholders of the data they collect early and revisit the data they collect to identify new stakeholders not previously identified based on trends that can be determined from the data.

Moreover, IoT device manufacturers should constantly consider ways to monetize or otherwise leverage the data they gather and collect. IoT device manufacturers tend to shy away from owning the data they collect in an effort to respect their customers’ privacy. Instead of not collecting sensitive data at all, IoT device manufacturers would be best served by exploring and implementing data collection and storage techniques that reduce their exposure to security breaches while at the same time allay the fears of customers.