That’s why manufacturers are giving users more control over the data that’s collected and how it’s used and stored, Bergman told NBC News BETTER.
RATING PRODUCTS FOR SECURITY AND PRIVACY
For its third annual Privacy Not Included report, Mozilla reviewed 76 popular connected gifts in six categories: smart home, entertainment, toys and games, wearables, health and exercise and pet products.
Researchers read privacy policies, looked at product and app specifications, and contacted companies about their encryption to answer these important questions:
- Does the product require strong passwords?
- Does it collect biometric data?
- Are there automatic security updates?
Most of the products rated in this report met Mozilla’s minimum security standards. Eight did not:
While smaller companies often don’t have the resources to prioritize the privacy and security of their products, many of the big tech companies, such as Apple and Google, are “doing pretty well at securing their products,” the report concluded. “But even when devices are secure, they can still collect a lot of data about users.”
PRIVACY POLICIES NEED IMPROVEMENT
Few of us read the privacy policies for the smart devices we buy. They’re way too long and difficult to read.
Jamie Boone, vice president for government affairs at the Consumer Technology Association, says the industry realizes this is a problem and is working to improve disclosures about notice, choice and consent.
“We’re seeing a concerted effort to update those policies and make them more readable and make them easier to find,” Boone told NBC News BETTER.
Mozilla agrees. Its study found that overall, manufacturers are “making strides” in how privacy information is presented. More privacy pages — such as those by Apple and Roomba — are being written in “simple, accessible language,” the report said.
In November, the Washington Post reported that Amazon, which owns Ring, has entered into agreements with more than 600 police departments across the country allowing them “to quickly request and download video” recorded by the Ring doorbell cameras.
DO YOU REALLY NEED A SMART DEVICE?
Connectivity sells products, so manufacturers are flooding the market with all sorts of household appliances and wearable devices that are web-enabled. You need to ask yourself, is the risk to your privacy or safety worth the benefits?
“In some cases, we're connecting stuff to the Internet that we don't necessarily need to connect,” said Charles Henderson, head of IBM’s X-Force Red security testing team. “Is the risk of compromise worth the reward of being able to see the inside of your refrigerator from across town?”
Henderson suggests doing this risk vs. reward analysis for all the smart technology you consider bringing into your home. You need to consider the increased risk to your privacy that comes from having devices with microphones and cameras spread throughout the house.
“You expect these devices to be used for the intended purposes, but they can certainly be abused — and you may not know it,” Henderson cautioned. “It's not like there’s a big light on top of your voice assistant that flashes red when a criminal is inside.”
HOW YOU SET UP THE DEVICE CAN MAKE A BIG DIFFERENCE
When you get a new smart device, you want to have it up and running as quickly as possible. So, it’s easy to race through the settings, agreeing to various types of data collection, sharing and storage, without thinking about it.