Saturday, January 31, 2015

FTC: FTC Issues Report on the Internet of Things

The FTC has issued a staff report on the “Internet of Things,” recommending businesses take concrete steps to enhance and protect the privacy and security of consumers.  The report entitled Internet of Things: Privacy & Security in a Connected World ( provides a look at the FTC’s expectations for consumer data privacy and security for internet connected products.  While the report does not have the force of law, it does provide insight of the FTC’s minimum expectations should a data breach or other FTC Act violation occur.

For purposes of the report, the FTC defined the “Internet of Things” as being devices (other than computers, smart phones or tablets) that connect or transmit information with or between each other through the internet.  For instance, the Internet of Things would include devices with imbedded intelligence like smart appliances and medical devices.  The report expressly excludes business to business products.


·       Companies developing Internet of Things (“IoT”) products should implement reasonable security.  As noted by the FTC Staff, reasonable security is not a one size fits all proposition and should take into account a number of factors, including: the amount and sensitivity of the data collected, the sensitivity of the device’s functionality, and the costs of remedying the security vulnerabilities.  At a minimum, however:

·       Companies should build security into their devices at the outset and not as an afterthought;

·       Companies should do privacy or security risk assessments;

·       Companies should consider how to minimize the data they collect and retain, only collecting and retaining the minimum necessary;

·       Companies should insure their service providers are capable of maintaining reasonable security;

·       For systems with significant risk, companies should implement a defense-in-depth approach with security measures at several levels; and

·       Companies should continue to monitor products through their life cycle, patch known vulnerabilities, and clearly represent the extent to which they will provide ongoing security updates and software patches.

·       Companies should examine their data practices and business needs and engage in data minimization.  The FTC noted that engaging in data minimization helps safe guard against the potential harms caused by a data breach, making products less attractive to data thieves and making it less likely the data will be used in a way that is inconsistent with the consumer’s expectations.  At a minimum:

·       Companies should develop policies and practices that impose reasonable limit on the collection and retention of consumer data;

·       Companies should establish reasonable retention limits for the data collected; and

·       Companies should also consider whether they can collect and maintain data in a de-identified form and maintain up to date with technological developments to insure the data is no re-identified and require the same of their third party vendors.

·       The FTC continued to emphasize that companies should provide consumers with notice and choice as to what data will be collected, particularly if data would be used in a way the consumer would not expect.  While the FTC staff recognized the practical difficulties of providing choice where there is no consumer interface (for instance, smart appliances), they provided several examples of how notice can be provided to a consumer, including the use of icons, set up menus, and affixed barcodes that when scanned, would take the consumer to a website enabling consumers to make choices through the website interface.

Recognizing that this industry is in the early stages, the FTC did not advocate for IoT specific legislation at this time; however, the report did recognize a need for general data security legislation.  The report reiterated the Commission’s previous recommendation that Congress enact “strong, flexible, and technology-neutral legislation to strengthen the Commission’s existing data security enforcement tools and require companies to notify consumers when there is a security breach.”



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