You Ask We Answer 8. Who owns data from the Internet of Things?

Internet-of-Things devices use their sensors to collect a colossal amount of data, which then undergoes analysis and processing before it has an effect in the real world. Often, the information is shared with third-party services that turn it into actionable intelligence. What started as raw input is converted into meaningful results for the human beneficiary.

In the consumer world, details gathered this way are particular to their environment, so one would think the consumers own that information. While this may be true in theory and many services respect the customer’s ownership of rights, title and interest, they also offer incentives for the right to take the data and process it.

In exchange, the end user may get better services or a personalized experience, or discounts. All this is agreed upon in advance, through a terms of service (ToS) agreement that most of us click on without reading a word. However, this document is also where you find that happens with the information collected from your surroundings.

In many cases, the details your IoT devices captures do not reach the vendor directly, but a third-party that processes it. For instance, if your TV supports voice commands, they likely go to a vendor’s partner first. This is usually mentioned in the ToS document, frequently accompanied by limitation of liability conditions.

Even if your data helps improve the IoT service, what comes from it is no longer yours. After it’s been chewed beyond recognition and integrated into a larger set, it becomes derivative work that the manufacturer can use to optimize products.

Depending on the type of information taken via an IoT device, privacy and data protection laws and regulations force the vendor to keep it safe. Since legislation is not a guarantee against misuse and abuse, the US Federal Trade Commission advises IoT makers to limit the type of data collected and the storage period, and to tell users how their information will be used.

Image credit: geralt

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