IoT: Is online privacy a thing of the past?

Or perhaps it is better to ask if it was ever a thing to begin with. The Internet of Things (IoT) is an effective tool for gathering and delivering information. It is estimated that by the year 2020, 25 billion devices will be connected to the IoT (Smith, 2015). This is bound to have an effect on an individual’s privacy, which is gradually being surrendered unwittingly by consumers without their realization that data is being monitored and collected, or how that data is being used.

Privacy challenges are a definite disadvantage to the IoT. Almost anyone can access the continual flow of data and use it for potentially dubious or illicit purposes. The increase in connected devices allows hackers more entry points into private information (Meola, 2016). As sensors become more ubiquitous, people have progressively less knowledge of what information is being collected and shared, and for what purpose. Have you ever clicked “yes” to agree to Terms of Use without having read them? If so, you are probably forfeiting privacy rights and possibly opening yourself up to corporate surveillance and data breaches. IoT devices and digital services propagate a lot of personal information. There is a low level of trust that companies are protecting any of the data being collected; 78% of consumers are greatly concerned about their data being sold (Groopman, 2015).

How does this pertain to libraries? The technology exists to use patron data, collected in real-time, to make customized recommendations. While this information can be used to save staff time and improve patron service, there are ethical considerations that libraries will need to address. Patron confidentiality is highly prized in libraries, and the public must be reassured that any personal information gathered by the library will not be sold or used by others.

Groopman, J. (2015). Consumer perceptions of privacy in the Internet of Things. Retrieved from

Meola, A. (2016). How the Internet of Things will effect security & privacy. Retrieved from

Smith, M.S. (2015). Protecting privacy in an IoT-connected world. Information Management Journal, 49(6), 36-39.

3 thoughts on “IoT: Is online privacy a thing of the past?”

  1. Privacy issues when using the internet are so intrinsic and so hard to avoid in our highly connected world. its not as simple as just not using devices – the newest Microsoft OS came with a raft of privacy issues, as do services like a Google and Siri. Definitely something to think about considering current events,

  2. Ah, the Terms of Use…does anyone actually read them? I try on occasion, but then my eyes gloss over and I click Agree. It’s not right that we must give up our rights to use a product, but it is becoming the law of the land.

  3. I did not know this before this week: if you are featured on a n NPR broadcast like “this American Life” or in a podcast like “S-Town,” the producers give interviewees details on how to set their Facebook to private etc. It has been fascinating to see how social media captures a moment in time related to someone’s life.

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