Privacy becoming a big concern in today’s connected world. We store (and share) more and more of our details and other information in digital formats. Most of us rely on our smartphones and gadgets to do everything from grocery shopping to work planning. Recent studies have shown that the amount of data we produce and gather has been increasing exponentially.
The data that we make available online is also being actively collected. Our social media posts, the photos we upload to Instagram or Facebook, the email address we post on our blog, and countless other details about ourselves are not only accessible but also being collected by multiple parties, specifically businesses and corporations, that use automated web scraping technologies. Smartproxy explains these matters in a very detailed way on their blog.
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It is safe to say that everything is collecting our data, from the websites we visit the devices we use every day. You’d be surprised by the variety of devices that are collecting information about you constantly, and we are going to take a deep dive into how everything is collecting your data in this article.
Wacom – an Innocent Tablet Or a Spying Tool?
Designers turn to Wacom for some of the best tablets on the market. Devices like the Wacom Cintiq have long been the go-to tools for designers who rely on tablets and stylus as their preferred input method of choice. Wacom is also seen as the best in the business, offering features such as high accuracy and multi-level touch sensitivity.
A Wacom tablet connected to your computer is nothing more than an input device, right? Well, a security researcher recently discovered that Wacom tablets are actively collecting usage data from users. The researcher, Robert Heaton, detailed how the tablet collects more than just usage timestamps in his recent report.
Wacom tablets track when the device’s driver activates and shuts down, which means the company can build a comprehensive usage profile of its users. At the same time, the data collection runtime also collects information about applications that you start while the Wacom driver is active, along with details such as a unique identifier for your device. This has raised questions why a drawing tablet would need to know which other applications are running on a computer. As if that weren’t enough, these details are then sent to Google Analytics as Wacom’s analytics tool of choice. Representatives from the company said that usage data collection is meant to be used for product development purposes, but it is difficult to accept that reason when you consider the other details that are also extracted by Wacom devices.
(Sending Data to the) Internet of Things
The case of Wacom tablets sending usage data to the cloud is just one of many similar cases plaguing the internet right now. We all know how the Internet of Things (IoT) devices was used as botnets; the IoT devices we have today are far from the most secure devices on the market. There have been multiple cases of unsecured IoT devices sending private information to the cloud.
Machine-to-machine communication usually allows smart devices to perform advanced functions. When you activate your Google Home and ask a question, the device doesn’t just process your query on-premise; it uses a Fourier Transformation and sends that query to a central server to get the answers you are looking for. There is a lot that this type of communication can disclose. Even without human access to the granular data, IoT devices can still collect information and details that are too private to share. When you use a smart thermostat, that IoT device is collecting information about your energy consumption level, how you normally control your interior climate, and even how efficient your heating and cooling system overall.
Other IoT devices like the smart TV you have in your living room, or the smart speaker that connects to your iPhone whenever you are in the range also does the same thing. Details such as how you use the devices are only the beginning. Some IoT devices even go as far as mapping your usage pattern against enriched data from other sources.
Web Scraping and Other Collection Methods
And then we have the data you share online. The smartwatch you use when running can be programmed to automatically share your exercise details, i.e. how many calories you burn, the route you take this morning, and the distance of your run, to social media. Unfortunately, many of us activate the sharing of data settings willingly.
The data that gets sent to the cloud or posted on social media is more valuable than you think. The companies behind smart devices are already collecting data about you and your exercise routine. Some even go as far as mapping your movements and collecting data about where you spend most of your time every day, all for advertising and other commercial reasons.
Web scrapers are becoming more advanced. It doesn’t take much to program a web scraper to seek this type of data. Since you already share these details online, nothing stops web scrapers from legally collecting and processing them to gain additional insights. If you are wondering how ad targeting can be so accurate these days, now you know why.
Deeper profiling can be achieved with more data being collected. The technologies behind data collection and processing, including data warehousing and machine learning, also make the granular data associated with users like you more valuable. The last thing you want is to willingly share personal details because you didn’t configure your smart devices correctly.
The Internet of Things may not be the technology to use if you are concerned with privacy and data protection, at least not right now. While the communication between IoT and smart devices is becoming more secure, additional security measures are still needed before your data is fully protected.
Besides, the companies behind smart devices we have today – including big names like Wacom and Google – are actively collecting data about you for various purposes. They want to know more about you, serve you more contextual content and ads, and develop products that suit your needs and preferences better. If you are concerned about data privacy and security, perhaps IoT devices are not the kind of gadgets you should be using today.