Smart devices are harvesting excessive consumer data, study finds


In its study, Which? analysed the data collection operations of the brands who produce popular smart devices including doorbell cameras, smart speakers and smart washing machines 

New Research from Which? has shown that the makers of smart home devices are collecting more data than is required from their users. This data is then in danger of being shared with third party firms such as social media platforms, without consumers being explicitly aware. 

After analysis of the data collection practises of popular brands, findings of the study included smart doorbell brand Ezvis having the most tracking firms active (including TikTok’s marketing unit, Pangle) Bose smart speakers sharing their user’s data with Meta despite only being supposed to listen when you want them to, LG washing machine necessitating that users provide a date of birth, and smart TVs knowing the viewing habits of users. 

Data collection can be useful to help companies develop better products by optimising them to the need of the consumer. However, it is likely that customers are unaware of the extent to which their data is being used and shared, as a third of people surveyed by Which? do not fully read a device’s privacy policy. 

“Firms should not collect more data than they need to provide the service that’s on offer,” said Rocio Concha, Which? Policy and Advocacy Director, “particularly if they are going to bury this important information in lengthy terms and conditions.” 

Under the General Data Protection Regulations, the data collected by companies must be relevant, and they must be transparent about what data they collect and how it is processed. 

Despite this, companies are often intentionally broad with their reasonings behind using consumer data, giving objectives such as it being in the companies ‘legitimate interests’. 

‘The Information Commissioner’s Office should crack down on data collection by manufacturers and marketing firms that appears to go beyond “legitimate interests”. A proper standard or code of practice should also be put in place to make the rules clearer,’ said Concha. 

Following the release of the report, the Information Commissioner’s Office – a UK government body which upholds information rights in the public interest – have release a statement, emphasising that: 

“Companies must be transparent about the data they collect and how they use it, and ensure that the data is not used or shared in ways that people would not expect. The ICO is developing guidance on data protection and Internet of Things devices and we will act where we don’t see the rules being followed,” said Stephen Almond, Executive Director of Regulatory Risk and the ICO. 

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