With Black Friday shopping come and gone, holiday shoppers have their sights set on hot-ticket gift items for this year’s Christmas. And although holiday gift-buying is always something of a gamble, Christmas shopping in 2021 is proving to be even less straightforward than usual.
While consumers always run the risk of purchasing holiday gifts that are unwanted or poorly suited to their recipients, interconnected smart products and devices connected online via the Internet of Things (IoT) are posing new and more complex problems – namely ones that affect the privacy of friends and loved ones. Your next Christmas gift may, in fact, run the risk of compromising the security of the person to whom you give it: let’s take a quick look at just how, exactly, your gift may be a Christmas threat.
Toys and gadgets may be selling your data for a profit
Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic and its effects on our increasingly interconnected world, it only makes sense that smart devices – including ones that can be considered toys or recreational products – are slowly but surely becoming larger parts of our day-to-day lives.
More and more people are relying on smart devices as the WFH lifestyle continues to ride a wave of popularity, contributing to the estimation that, by 2025, the number of smart homes worldwide should surpass 478.2 million. And although devices connected to the IoT undoubtedly have their benefits – smart devices can add great value to your daily life by automating tasks and increasing productivity – they also present their fair share of drawbacks.
People may wonder about their efficacy and, more notably, about the security and reliability of these IoT devices. Smart toys and gadgets that are connected to the internet via the IoT are no exception, considering they continuously collect a steady stream of user-centric data as well as data regarding the surroundings of their users.
Interactive toys and gadgets that are on the to-buy lists of Christmas shoppers are at the mercy of their manufacturers, who may be converting that user-centric data into a profit after selling it to advertisers and disreputable brokers of data. This alarming trend coincides with a huge uptick in cyber crime that has affected more than 80% of organizations in the United States. With so many enterprise organizations and businesses being affected by hacking incidents relating to their devices, it comes as no surprise that individual smart device users are also at risk of experiencing similar hacking incidents.
In light of the growing propensity for interactive toys and gadgets to collect huge amounts of data relating to their users, certain measures have come into existence to enforce strict data protections in the attempt to safeguard the privacy and personal security of smart device users. (And thankfully there are forward-thinking companies taking a proactive approach to security, incorporating it into the manufacturing process from the beginning.)
This increase in extensive data protections comes at a time of tangible unease and personal unrest that is undoubtedly a result of the COVID-19 pandemic’s effects on everyday life. According to recent statistics, there has been a 50% uptick in the overall number of people purchasing insurance plans since the pandemic began. Modern smart device users face an understandably real sense of danger affecting their physical well-being – and may choose the short-term relief that a health or wellness tracker can provide over their long-term security and privacy.
Privacy issues that smart devices raise can range from simple annoyance of targeted ads following you around the web to the physical threat of a criminal stalking you with something as seemingly innocuous as a Bluetooth tagger.
With so many potential privacy and security threats affecting Christmas shoppers, how does one know whether the gift they want to buy may pose risks?
How to tell if your Christmas gift can compromise your privacy
Wondering if your would-be Christmas gift may end up compromising the privacy and security of the person you give it to? There are a few questions you can ask to decide whether or not the item you want to purchase can pose potential privacy problems.
To start, consider the reputation of the brand or manufacturer – do your due diligence in cases where the item you’re planning on buying has the ability to connect to the home internet or Wi-Fi network. Items that connect to the internet or home networks pose a huge number of potential privacy problems, which is made even worse by the fact that most device manufacturers have little to no understanding of how to secure their devices (and worse yet, some manufacturers or suppliers may not have the best intentions to begin with). Smart devices can easily fall prey to telecommunications attacks that cybercriminals are all too eager to carry out.
Another important question to consider when shopping for a Christmas gift: Does the product you’re thinking of buying include a camera, microphone, or sensor? IoT-connected devices can see and hear what you do with their built-in cameras, microphone, and additional sensors. While this fact may seem unsettling, certain products – robot vacuums, fitness trackers, and home alarm systems, for example – completely rely on gear such as audio, video, and biometric recording hardware to do their job.
Additional points that are worth looking into before making your Christmas purchase:
- Is the device able to store recordings internally before sending them to the cloud?
- Is the device able to let you see those recordings in the cloud easily and at any time?
- Does the device guarantee that it encrypts any recordings it stores before it sending them to the device manufacturer or elsewhere?
With Christmas around the corner, and IoT security still in early development at most major manufacturers, holiday shoppers should do their due diligence by vetting any IoT-connected products or devices they’re considering buying before making their final purchases. Beware smart gifts that place the security and privacy of their recipients at risk due to lack of data privacy protections and unscrupulous features that store and manipulate user-centric data without the knowledge of their users.
Note: This blog article was written by a guest contributor for the purpose of offering a wider variety of content for our readers. The opinions expressed in this guest author article are solely those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect those of GlobalSign.