Data privacy is an increasing concern for consumers and tech advocates alike. Lawmakers from both the Republican and Democratic parties know this, and it’s why the Informing Consumers about Smart Devices Act, being championed by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), is receiving bipartisan support.
Cruz says this bill would “inform” consumers about smart devices with “spying” capabilities, but it is just another opportunity for politicians to expand their ever-growing paternalistic role in our daily lives.
Sure, users value their privacy, but only to a certain degree. Case in point: the smartphones that roughly 310 million people voluntarily keep on their person 24/7, even while they’re in the bathroom. Does it really matter if a smart refrigerator is equipped with the same technology as the smartphone present in your pocket (especially when the refrigerator has the added bonus of assisting with food management)?
Despite what Cruz may think, consumers aren’t dumb when it comes to smart products. We don’t need a warning label for the presence of audio-video software or internet-enabled capabilities. If a device needs to connect to WiFi or an app to function, clearly it is internet-enabled. If lights, thermostats, or music can be controlled by voice commands, then of course these devices have a listening function.
Many of us have come to accept the trade-off of data collection by companies we trust in order to use certain products, services, or websites. For some time now, internet surfers and online shoppers have become acquainted with pop-ups asking to enable cookies on their browsers. Digital cookies were always there, but what changed was the notification of them due to policy pressures. Have the cookie notifications really changed online activities? I doubt it. Have more pop-ups in the name of transparency improved online experiences? Also doubtful.
Organizations gather data to know their consumer base, not to stalk us and discover our dirty secrets. In fact, I’d appreciate it if my tech-enabled Traeger grill was “spying” on me — that way, I might receive some coupons based on my grilling history or suggestions on how to improve my barbecuing skills.
Firms are well aware that their reputation hinges on the comfort level of consumers when it comes to tech use and data collection: If consumers feel a company is infringing too much upon their privacy, backlash will surely ensue. As such, government deliberation over this matter is simply unnecessary.
If passed, the proposed bill will, at best, require warning labels to be affixed to the packaging of smart products and, at worst, place the Federal Trade Commission in charge of establishing disclosure guidelines and enforcement mechanisms. Any cost a company incurs related to regulatory compliance deemed necessary by the FTC will be felt in the marketplace, and manufacturers will take into account the potential for fines from the FTC when establishing their price points.
The expense of FTC interference will be borne by all taxpayers, and the cost to companies for new packaging and labels will spill over into higher prices for consumers.
It is unclear why members of the Republican Party would want to expand the regulatory mandate of the FTC, given that Chairwoman Lina Khan has proven her position as an anti-business ideologue ever since she was appointed by President Joe Biden. Our independent purchase decisions do not need to create an economic burden for all taxpayers nor serve as a means for furthering the FTC’s inquisition against corporate America.
At the end of the day, it is important to remember that every individual consumer has authority over what tech products are used within his or her home. Rather than increase the power of the regulatory state over our consumption habits, consumers concerned about their appliances having spyware capabilities should simply shop accordingly, and any nefarious activities should be handled by the court system.
The “Internet of Things” is meant to predict wants, persuade actions, and improve consumer experiences. Some in-home smart devices can even be literal lifesavers. Thanks to advancements in wearable tech and telehealth, real-time assessments can be transmitted to healthcare providers to allow for independent living at home. Take WalkWise, a smart mobility aid attachment benefiting those in need of senior care. Devices such as these shouldn’t be bogged down by FTC interference or government oversight.
Products that advance our well-being, and that we buy according to our preferences with our own money, should not be vilified by politicians and used to grow the nanny state. Although Cruz claims this bill to be “common sense legislation,” that assumes you (the consumer) have no common sense of your own.
Originally published here