Privacy tips for the Internet of Things

01/05/2015 19:16

Worried that your connected devices are collecting too much personal data? Here's what you can do.

If you don’t like the idea of being tracked by your devices, you might think you have only two options: Avoid the technology altogether or simply surrender to the surveillance. But for most smart products, there are strategies that can at least restrict how much of your information gets collected.  


1. Password-protect anything that collects personal information. Many smart devices are managed through Internet-based accounts. Some have pass codes you can enter on the device as well. Use both. And yes, you do need to pick unique and complex passwords. We suggest at least nine characters in a combination of letters, numbers, and symbols. Also, if you haven’t already done so, make sure to password-protect the settings on your router as well as its Wi-Fi connection.


2. Read the privacy policy. We know they’re often long and indecipherable. But if you want an indication of the kinds of information your device is tracking, that’s where you’ll find it. But bring your legal-to-English dictionary. Remember, however, manufacturers can change their policies at any time. And in case of a data breach, all bets are off. Hackers don’t read those policies, either.

Read our special report, "In the Privacy of Your Own Home," and  learn about connected devices and your privacy.
3. Find the “off” toggle in the settings menu on your smart device. Often, features that track you are given a line-item on-off toggle. On smart TVs, for example, you can switch off voice control and “interactive” functionality. If anything seems suspicious to you, turn it off—you can always turn it back on later if it disables a function you need.


4. Don’t leave connected devices on when you’re not using them. Certain Internet-enabled devices are hooked to the Internet 24/7 by necessity (a smart thermostat, for example), but a connected baby monitor doesn’t need to be streaming video from junior’s crib when your baby is in your arms. Just turn it off.


5. Install security updates. Device makers need to get serious about automatically pushing out security updates. But consumers would be wise to periodically check the manufacturer’s website to see whether their device has a patch, an update, or new firmware. If there is, install it quickly.


6. Take it offline. If Wi-Fi or cellular connectivity in a product doesn’t offer a tangible benefit to you, buy the non­connected version. If a non­connected version isn’t available, you can still buy the smart product—just don’t set it up on your Wi-Fi network. It may sound obvious, but it’s worth stating: If a device isn’t connected to the Internet, there’s no snooping and no hacking.


Editor's Note: 

This article also appeared in the June 2015 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.