Smart Devices and Privacy Laws

Smart devices are being sold to consumers and businesses on a regular basis. They include smart phones, smart cars, smart televisions, smart thermostats, smart doorbells, smart bulbs, smart locks, smart watches, smart speakers, smart refrigerators, and other electronic devices. These smart devices can be recording you or collecting personal data without your knowledge or consent.

Privacy in the internet and technology age has become a major concern. This is primarily due to the existence and availability of smart devices which are even referred to as “smart spies” because they can record and transfer personal information to the hackers who use technical flaws to install spyware. This is why it’s important to review the security settings of the smart device on a regular basis. For example, smart televisions are connected to the internet, and if they are hacked into, they can easily be used for nefarious purposes. Smart speakers and digital assistants are listening to voices and that is why they can be a threat source for their users. They are constantly collecting information with or without the user’s knowledge or consent. There may be a way to delete the recently-recorded information by telling the smart device to delete the last conversation but consumers should read the user’s manual to learn about the options.

Smart doorbells, which are part of a home’s security surveillance system, have cameras and are connected to the internet. Therefore, they can be hacked into and used to record activities. For example, Ring has been questioned for sharing video recordings with police departments and third-party service providers such as Facebook and Google without the user’s knowledge or consent. It is important to view the “authorized client devices” feature to understand which device is accessing the account.

Smart thermostats have become a privacy concern especially if they have a camera or microphone inside them which can be used to listen to wake words. The microphone icons can be tapped and the voice control option can be turned off. For example, Nest has been known to collect setup data, environmental data, and heating and cooling usage data.

Smart bulbs have been also targeted by hackers to infiltrate computer networks. For example, hackers have been known to compromise the smart bulb’s low-power wireless protocol to breach the device and attack the specific computer network.

There are state and federal laws that would be applicable to unauthorized access to electronic devices. For example, the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (“ECPA”) protects wire, oral, and electronic communications from unauthorized access, use, disclosure, and interception. In general, laws are designed to protect consumers and businesses from unwarranted access, storage, and distribution of personal information. For example, the US Privacy Act of 1974 is designed to address the legal rights and restrictions on data that is stored by the government. The Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act (“GLBA”) is designed to protect non-public financial information from unauthorized access. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (“HIPAA”) is designed to protect healthcare and health insurance information. Finally, the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (“COPPA”) is designed to protect personal information of children with the age of 12 years and less.

Manufacturers of smart devices must realize that their products will be categorized and considered as Internet of Things (“IoT”) devices. In general, IoT devices collect, use, or disclose personal information. As a result, these manufacturers will be subject to local, state, and international laws, including, but not limited to, the Canadian Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (“PIPEDA”) which is a federal private-sector privacy law. Accordingly, under this statute, personal information is defined as “information about an identifiable individual” such as heart rate, body temperature, voice/facial recordings, geolocation data, and behavioral patterns.

Our law firm assists clients in matters related to smart device privacy and security rules and regulations. Please contact our law firm to speak with an internet attorney at your earliest convenience.