Smart Devices, Privacy Concerns, and New Legislation

Smart Devices, Privacy Concerns, and New Legislation

As smart devices such as cell phones, tablets, and household appliances become more frequent within the business landscape, new regulations will have to be introduced in order to protect the personal privacy of consumers that make use of smart devices. This being said, The Informing Consumers about Smart Devices Act, otherwise known as H.R. 3898 is a draft bill that is currently being considered by U.S. Congress, with the goal of providing American citizens with certain protections as it concerns the prolonged usage of smart devices. Moreover, the law would also impose certain disclosure obligations on the manufacturers of smart and Internet of Things (IoT) devices.

What kinds of smart devices are covered by the law?

Under the proposed provisions of the Informing Consumers about Smart Devices Act, a covered device is defined as “(1) means a consumer product, as defined by section 3(a) of the Consumer Product Safety Act (15 U.S.C. 2052(a)) that is capable of connecting to the internet, a component of which is a camera or microphone; and (2) does not include— (A) a telephone (including a mobile phone), a laptop, tablet, or any device that a consumer would reasonably expect to have a microphone or camera; (B) any device that is specifically marketed as a camera, telecommunications device, or microphone; or (C) any device or apparatus described in sections 255, 716, and 718, and subsections (aa) and (bb) of section 303 of the Communications Act of 1934 (47 U.S.C. 255; 617; 619; and 303(aa) and (bb)), and any regulations promulgated thereunder.”

What are the duties of smart device manufacturers under the law?

If The Informing Consumers about Smart Devices Act is ultimately passed into law by U.S. Congress, manufacturers of smart devices, including companies such as Google, Amazon, and Apple, among others, would be required to inform consumers in instances where the “covered device manufactured by the manufacturer contains a camera or microphone as a component of the covered device.” For example, a technology company that manufactures smart thermostats, devices that can be configured to contain cameras under certain conditions, would be responsible for disclosing this information when selling such devices to prospective consumers.

To this last point, while the notion of passing a law that strictly pertains to cameras and microphones that are contained within smart devices may appear to be an extreme measure on a surface level, the manner in which technology and social media have developed in the past decade has led to a new wave of personal privacy concerns. Subsequently, various studies that have been conducted in recent years have confirmed that many consumers fear the idea of their cell phones or smart devices being used to record their personal conversations or spy on them, even when they are not actively using their devices.

Mounting privacy issues

To illustrate this point further, a study conducted by Northeastern University in 2018 found that certain mobile applications had the ability to take screenshots of a user’s screen, as well as record any information that a user speaks or types when using their smartphone. What’s more, the researchers also found that many companies had been sending screenshots and videos depicting user activity to third parties, without the consent of the applicable users. When considering the forms of personal information that will commonly be associated with smartphone usage, including full names, dates of birth, email addresses, credit card numbers, usernames, and passwords, among other pertinent information, these findings are extremely troubling, to say the least.

On the other hand, the rise of social networking platforms in recent years has also ushered in a new level of privacy issues around the world. The accusations that have been levied against the Chinese short-form video hosting service and social media application TikTok are perhaps the most representative of such concerns, as various U.S. politicians have accused the social media company’s executives of effectively spying on the American populace. Furthermore, while these claims have yet to be conclusively proven, leaked audio recordings regarding the actions of TikTok employees have cast doubt on the manner in which the social media company protects the personal information of its users in a very general sense.

While The Informing Consumers about Smart Devices Act would only serve to protect the privacy of American citizens under certain circumstances if the bill is ultimately passed into law, any semblance of privacy legislation that is enacted at the federal level would be very beneficial to the nation’s consumers, as companies are currently able to collect this information without hazard or penalty. As a result, technology companies and politicians alike will have to begin considering the implications of failing to protect the personal information of the everyday working person, as nations around the world continue to pass laws aimed at protecting the privacy of their own citizens.

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