Is Your Toaster Spying on you? The Internet of Things Spawns New Law Practice Opportunities

Is Your Toaster Spying on you? The Internet of Things Spawns New Law Practice Opportunities

New technologies give rise to new opportunities for lawyers as expanding industry sectors require new regulatory schemes and implementation. The development and commercialization of emerging technologies of course involves the types of legal expertise utilized by any new business or product, but they need creative applications of the law or innovative solutions, as well. Because they present unique legal issues, other lawyers will not have cornered the market already, leaving room for a recent grad or more senior but retooling lawyer to enter these niches and become a leading expert in the field.

Internet of Things

A huge emerging legal market is the ”Internet of Things” (IoT). The IOT is the interconnected network of digital devices or sensors—other than smartphones, computers, or tablets—that connect, communicate, or transmit information with or between each other through the Internet. There now are tens of billions of these devices in our homes, businesses, and cars—and even in our bodies. These can include driverless cars and vehicle enhancements such as entertainment and GPS systems, personal drones, smart home devices (thermostats, security systems, baby monitors, and smart appliances), wearable devices (such as the Fitbit and Apple Watch), webcams and digital recorders, and implantable medical devices (such as heart monitors, defibrillators, and insulin injectors). New IoT products are invented almost every day and the possibilities seem limitless.

Privacy and Security Threats

These IoT devices collect extensive and ever-expanding amounts of personal information and store it in the cloud, all of which is a target for cyber attackers and stalkers. The resulting threat of hacking and the vulnerability of this data has spawned a huge demand for cybersecurity and data privacy lawyers.

The terms “cybersecurity” and “data privacy” are not synonymous. Cybersecurity is securing and protecting critical and sensitive data and preventing it from falling into the hands of unauthorized third parties. Data privacy involves consumers’ personal information and their ability to fully understand their rights regarding how data about them is collected, used, and shared.

Many law firms recognize the marketing opportunity presented by IoT and tout their newly formed data privacy and cybersecurity practice groups. Since these are not long-established areas of law, lawyers and law firms cobble together pieces of existing practices and scramble to develop additional areas of expertise. Moreover, there is no unified national regulatory approach for either cybersecurity or data privacy, leaving the states to impose varied legislative schemes. This further complicates matters and provides even more need for lawyers to lobby, advise, and litigate. Now is the time to jump on the band wagon, before the field becomes saturated.

The Risk
  • Digital Assistants

It’s not government or Big Brother who’s intruding to watch us. Increasingly, we are inviting IoT into our homes and lives. Your smartphone and devices such as Fitbit, Alexa, Echo, and Siri know most of your personal details and what is going on in your life. Just mention a product or service in a casual conversation at home, and a related ad shows up on your computer or phone shortly. Many of those devices also have cameras, so they not only are listening but watching us, too. Can you imagine your smartwatch serving as a witness against you in a trial?

  • Medical Devices

These concerns extend even to medical devices and implants. Recently, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued a safety alert about a hacking vulnerability affecting up to 750,000 implantable heart defibrillators. Additionally, biometric privacy is a concern as companies increasingly collect and use biometric data (e.g., facial scans, iris/retinal scans, fingerprints, voiceprints or any other identifier derived from biological characteristics).

  • Motor Vehicles

Even your car could be spying on you. The modern vehicle is a giant computer containing more than 100 million lines of code that control everything from the navigation and infotainment system to safety systems like steering, acceleration and brakes. New components and network technologies provide more interconnectivity capabilities both inside and outside the vehicle enabling interaction with other vehicles or the surrounding infrastructure, such as traffic lights, highways or trains. While protecting you, your car also is collecting information about your whereabouts, daily schedule, driving habits, and who knows what else.

As in-vehicle wireless and Bluetooth connections become standardized, the threat increases. Hackers can use that connectivity to access your private information, steal your car or even worse. In 2015, Fiat Chrysler recalled 1.4 million cars after a team of cybersecurity researchers hacked a Jeep Cherokee’s infotainment system, took control of the steering wheel, disabled the breaks, and shut down the engine.

  • Home/Appliances

Smart home devices include appliances (such as your oven, refrigerator, television, or security system) that are connected to and controlled remotely by your smartphone through the Internet. Smart thermostats that control heating and cooling levels can reveal when you are home or away and asleep or awake, and alarm systems can provide access to your home and other secure areas. While these devices make our lives easier, they also make them more vulnerable to cyberattack or can even increase actual danger IRL (in real life).

Given the ubiquity and capabilities of the IoT, it’s not a stretch to conclude that—without the intervention of privacy and cybersecurity lawyers—your toaster may indeed be spying on you.


Valerie Fontaine
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