Commission will gather public comment on connected products

On Their Mind

The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has had the “internet of things” on its mind for some time now.

Back in January 2017, it released a wide-ranging report, titled “Potential Hazards Associated with Emerging and Future Technologies,” that dealt with the broad sweep of emerging consumer products and technologies and the hazards that may be associated with them. “Increased integration of smart technology and the Internet of Things” was one of the topics reviewed in the report, which tackled new related hazards such as a safety feature on a product being compromised digitally, a software glitch that creates abnormal operating conditions or false sensory inputs from a virtual reality application that causes real-life injury.

The report, which was driven in part by then-CPSC Chairman Elliot Kaye, was the first in a series of signs that the commission was paying closer attention to the product safety challenges posed by the internet of things and smart technologies. Commissioner Marietta Robinson made a high-profile trip to Israel to meet with technology leaders, academics and nonprofits to discuss consumer product issues raised by technologically advanced products. And acting CPSC chairwoman Ann Marie Buerkle referred to the issue in speeches and meetings.

Rap Session

A new major development in the CPSC’s engagement with these technologies is an upcoming hearing, scheduled for May 16, 2018, in Bethesda, Maryland. The hearing presents a unique opportunity for anyone who is interested in the intersection of technology and safety to offer input about “potential safety issues and hazards associated with internet-connected consumer products.” For those interested in attending, the hearing notice defines two separate streams of safety challenges to discuss – hazardous conditions caused by the inherent design of the product, and the hazards that accrue when an otherwise safe product is affected by changes to operational code.

The CPSC also goes out of its way to note that it does not consider personal data security and privacy part of its consumer safety mission. For more on that, see our recent blog post on IoT data privacy and security here.

The Takeaway

The hearing notice provides a list of questions – “areas for discussion” – that the CPSC hopes to address through the hearing and related commentary. The list includes, for instance:

Do current voluntary standards and/or safety regulations address safety hazards specific to IoT-connected devices? Who should develop such standards or create a set of design principles? What controls or supervisory systems on products are necessary to prevent injuries from unintended consequences of misinstallation, failed update, operational changes over time or misuse of an internet connection?

For designers, coders, manufacturers and marketers – anyone involved with the creation of connected products – these questions are helpful and instructive reading. They convey a sense of what the commission is thinking about as it begins to engage burgeoning technologies more closely. And they provide a worthwhile checklist for anyone contemplating creating – or selling – a new connected product.