Is Your Smart Device Spying On You?

Is your smart device spying on you?A regulatory agency in Germany just announced a ban on children’s smartwatches. This illustrates a growing concern among regulators and consumers alike regarding the privacy implications of smart devices. Is your smart device spying on you?

In the example of the smartwatch ban in Germany, the devices in question contain a remote listening capability. According to the regulators, this means the device counts as a spying device under German law. Worse yet, some smartwatches were found to transmit and store data without encryption. Parents could listen, unnoticed, to their child’s classroom, for example. But so could others who hack the device. Parents in Germany are being urged to destroy the smartwatches.

Concerns about smart device spying are not limited to Germany, however. According to a recent Deloitte survey, 40% of consumers are concerned that smart home devices reveal too much about their daily lives. After all, cameras and microphones within these devices can be hacked, and they are often found in the most intimate areas of the home, listening in on every conversation. While cheap devices that have been rushed to market may be more susceptible to hacking than larger brands, 60% of consumers in the survey felt that they had little or no information at all about the privacy of these devices. Smart device spying is a real and growing concern.

And it’s not just about listening to private conversations. These devices can also be controlled remotely by hackers to coordinate large distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks on sites around the world, all without the device owner’s knowledge. Privacy cannot be taken for granted, and device manufacturers must make the security of devices a primary element in the design.

However consumers of these devices have a role to play as well. Here are some ways that consumers can protect their smart devices:

  • When available, enable two-step authentication that requires physical access to the device in order to log in.
  • Ensure your internet connection is secure.
  • Install software updates issued by your device manufacturer immediately.
  • Change device passwords frequently.

Smart devices can be remarkably convenient for consumers, but the security of those devices cannot be ignored. Device manufacturers certainly have a role to play, ensuring privacy by design. However consumers must also do their part to make sure that their devices can’t be hacked. This is the only way to ensure that the benefits of smart devices outweigh the risks.

Want to learn more about cyber security, and how it related to not just smart devices, but other areas too? Explore the IEEE online course program Cyber Security Tools for Today’s Environment.



Griffin, A. (18 Nov, 2017). Low-Quality Devices Could Be Damaging the Idea of the Internet of ThingsIndependent.

Wakefield, J. (17 Nov, 2017). Germany Bans Childrens’ Smartwatches. BBC. 

Tung, L. (20 Nov, 2017). Is Germany Right to Tell Parents to Destroy Kids’ Smartwatches Over Snooping Fears? ZDNet. 

Cakebread, C. (15 Nov, 2017). Consumers are Holding Off on Buying Smart-Home Gadgets Thanks to Security and Privacy Fears. Business Insider. 

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