New App Alerts Users About Data Collection Around Them

Billions of IoT gadgets including microphones, smart cameras and others are hidden in plain sight and are tracking our movements, activities and even facial expressions. Fortunately, there is an app and digital infrastructure that allows users to discover such devices, give more information about the data they collect, and also opt out of these data collection.

The researchers at Carnegie Mellon University’s CyLab developed the IoT Assistant app which enables users to go through a map of IoT devices in their vicinity, learn about the kind of data these devices collect and what they do with it, and if they offer any privacy controls. The IoT Assistant is available in the Google Play Store and App Store (iOS).

‘New laws like the California Consumer Privacy Act and the General Data Protection Regulation call for increased transparency about the types of data being collected about people, how that data is used, and what options people are given’, says CyLab’s Norman Sadeh, a Professor of Computer Science in the Institute for Software Research (ISR) and the principal investigator of the Personalized Privacy Assistant Project. ‘Our app and infrastructure pave the way towards compliance, allowing people to take control of their privacy.’

Once the app has been downloaded, users can start exploring a map of IoT devices in their vicinity; they don’t need to create any account. When they click on pins on the map, the users can get more information about the data practices of a device like the kind of data it collects, how long the collected data is retained, whom the data might be shared with, etc.

If the user wants to focus on specific types of data collection around them like audio recording or video capture, they can choose a corresponding filter to that effect. They can also select among various notification options to decide the kind of data collection they want to be notified of and how often.

The IoT Portal is the home of the database of IoT gadgets and systems that are present in the IoT Assistant app. It also offers a set of device templates that can be used depending on the kind of device to be publicized, whether a Bluetooth location system in a store or some other kind of sensor.

IoT vendors can use the system to dispatch templates which can be used in the description of their IoT systems. If a user wants a device to be publicized but it doesn’t have a template yet, there is a wizard to guide them through some drop-down menus and help them describe their device and any other detail.

‘We want to make it very easy for people who deploy IoT technologies to publicize the presence of their resources and their data practices,’ says Sadeh.

The portal is accessible to owners of IoT devices, as well as any volunteer who wants to report devices they have detected. If these volunteer contributors do not have all the details of the device or the owner, they can input partial descriptions of the information they are sure of.

‘Even simple awareness is important,’ says Sadeh.

In the first week of its soft launch earlier this year, the IoT Assistant app acquired over 17,000 users. Currently, almost 200,000 IoT resources in North America, Europe and Australia are registered on the IoT portal.

This project came to be as a result of a generous grant under DARPA’s Brandeis privacy research program, with some funding from the National Science Foundation’ Secure and Trustworthy Cyberspace program.

Some other members of the team include Yuanyuan Feng, Yaxing Yao, Justin Donnell, Yoshi Torralva, Akshath Jain, Elizabeth Louie, Maahin Beri, Salil Deshpande, Prashanth Mogali etc.

By Marvellous Iwendi.

Source: CyLab