To protect her privacy Edith Ramirez, chairwoman of the Federal Trade Commission, uses an old-fashioned pedometer to track her steps instead of an internet-connected fitness tracker. Speaking this week at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Ramirez expressed her anxiety about the large amount of data which companies are collecting about consumers, “how that data is being used, or shared, and the potential for unintended uses, is a concern.” A key figure in the largest consumer protection agency in the United States, her avoidance of fitness trackers sends a message about consumer anxiety regarding large-scale data collection. She added, “The industry needs to address these concerns and be more transparent about how they handle personal data.” (Source: CNET

Here are three recent news stories that illustrate the necessity for companies to improve consumer privacy protection:

VTech

Ramirez is expressing the anxiety some consumers face as their lives depend on an increasing amount of internet-connected devices. Others have seemingly developed a tolerance for the incursions into our privacy until the repercussions become apparent. Recent news stories illustrate the latter, including the data breach at toy company VTech which exposed the personal information of numerous children who played with its internet-connected toys. Ramirez also stated that companies “need to be more clear” about how they handle private customer information, and that they “don’t collect information that they truly don’t need.”

Spotify

Last summer, Spotify’s CEO Daniel Ek publicly apologized after the company’s revised privacy policy was perceived by some as a violation of its users’ privacy. Some of the more notable changes to the policy included Spotify’s ability to collect their users’ photos and contacts, geolocation data, and motion sensor information, and the right to share this data with advertisers. On the surface, these all appear as a flagrant abuse of consumer privacy but some of the changes were in keeping with the development of the company’s software. Collecting information from a device’s motion sensors, for example, was necessary for a new featured called Spotify Running which matched the song tempo with a jogger’s pace. 

Vizio

Vizio, a manufacturer of smart TVs, also made notable changes to their privacy policy last year, including a provision which enabled them to sell their consumers’ viewing data, combined with their IP address, to third party companies. Many users reported feeling unsettled that their home television set was flagrantly collecting information about them, including their IP address which could be used to reveal their location, and selling the information to unknown marketing companies. 

In the case of Vizio, the company was attempting to create an additional source of profit by leveraging the information collected from their customers. The story illustrates the balancing act that technology companies must perform today, exhibiting due diligence in the handling of consumer information while continuing to provide innovative products such as Spotify, or remaining competitive in the marketplace as in the case of Vizio. As our lives become increasingly connected, consumers have an inherent right to data protection but also a duty to balance their convenience with privacy. 

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