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October 1, 2014

Why consent mechanisms for the Internet of Things are outdated

EU regulators raise privacy concerns over the emerging market.

By Amy-Jo Crowley

The EU data protection watchdog has warned manufacturers of the Internet of Things (IoT) that they may have to form new ways of gaining consumers’ consent to use their personal data.

First coined in 1999 by Kevin Ashton, the possibilities for IoT devices and applications are endless and set to benefit industries such retail, healthcare and transport.

The European Union’s Article 29 Working Party claims that traditional ways used to obtain consent are "low-quality consent" and "may be difficult to apply in the IoT".

The regulator called on device manufacturers to ensure that the consent they obtain from consumers using IoT is "fully informed, freely given and specific".

Manufacturers will also need to consider a new "common protocol to express preferences with regard to data collection and processing by data controllers especially when such data is collected by unobtrusive devices".

Kathryn Wynn, a data protection and lawyer at law firm Pinsent Masons, said: "The working party’s guidance and recommendations underpins the idea that the process of obtaining consent has evolved from being a one-time exercise that businesses could achieve by stating terms of data use in consumer contracts or privacy policies.

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"Instead, it is now clear that businesses need to have an ongoing dialogue with consumers about how they plan to use their data to account for the fact that technological change is delivering new ways for that data to be used that were previously unforeseen."

The Working Party also said the manufacturers should enable more decentralised control over and processing of personal data in the IoT. This would help consumers gain a clearer understanding of the data collected by their devices, it said.

"The challenge for businesses is finding a technological mechanism that enables them to explain data use plans to consumers and simultaneously allows consumers to manage their preferences and which is not a cumbersome tool," Wynn added.

The warning comes as manufacturers rush to get their products to market as quickly as possible. The likes of Apple, Sony, Samsung and more are all trying to stake a claim in the wearable tech market, while health manufacturers, such as Sensium and Bionym, have already introduced their products.

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