Yesterday, the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC” or “the Commission”) released its long-awaited staff report on the Internet of Things (“IoT”), which was announced by Chairwoman Ramirez in her keynote at the 2015 State of the Net conference. Building on a workshop held in 2013, the Commission’s report is a comprehensive look at the promise of Internet-connected everyday objects, the risks that they might pose to consumers, and the Commission’s recommended regulatory and legislative paths forward. Fortunately for consumers, the Commission’s suggestions, born of a collaborative workshop with privacy groups and industry, do not approach the onerous attempts by the EU to regulate the IoT well-before it gained a market foothold, which DisCo covered way back in 2012.
First, a short primer. The Internet of Things constitutes the growing wave of innovative technologies set to revolutionize the interactivity of the mundane products that we use every day. Smartwatches and other wearable devices get the most press, but introducing connectivity to other traditionally “dumb” devices in our environments will make them all more personal, adaptive, and efficient. Learning thermostats, networked refrigerators, Internet-enabled dog collars that track your pet’s location and wearable fitness trackers are already on sale, with driverless cars, wireless pacemakers, and home automation systems making their way to the main floor of this year’s Consumer Electronics Show (“CES”).
The FTC highlighted the array of benefits of connected devices early in its report. Connected health devices can provide richer sources of data and improve preventative care for physicians and patients. An adaptive thermostat coupled with automated lighting and security can reduce energy costs for homeowners and allow for remote monitoring of homes. Connected cars can offer on-demand vehicle diagnostics to drivers and service facilities, real-time traffic information, and provide automatic alerts to first responders when airbags are deployed. Eventually, self-driving cars may one day be widely available. Each additional type of connected device can provide another convenience or efficiency in the everyday lives of users.