Connected technology is everywhere and influences every part of our lives. The Department for Culture, Media and Sport states that there is on average nine connected devices in every UK household, with a variety of uses. It is estimated that by 2050, there will be twenty-four billion interconnected devices worldwide. Networks of connected devices can create “smart environments”, where networked devices work in concert to handle everyday tasks, across different spheres of life, such as in the home, urban environments, and workplaces.
Our inquiry focused on devices that displayed two fundamental characteristics: wireless connectivity to other devices and systems via the internet, and remote and/or autonomous operation. Connected tech can have a range of benefits, including improved efficiency, safety, security and health, environmental benefits and for entertainment. However, there are also a range of risks and harms associated with their use, including a loss of privacy, operational unpredictability and unfairness, online safety concerns and broadening patterns of domestic abuse.
We discuss data processing and privacy concerns in the home, in schools, in cities and at work. We recommend that the Government and Information Commissioner’s Office address these issues by empowering users, and in particular children, to exercise their rights over their personal data through intuitive product design, clear terms and conditions and digital literacy schemes. We also evaluate some wider impacts of the Government’s intentions to reform data protection legislation on international data flows and reform the regulator itself, and call on the Government to maintain data adequacy with the European Union and uphold the independence of the regulator.
We also explore safety and cybersecurity concerns for consumers and businesses when using connected technology. Our Report proposes ways to strengthen the new product security regime, which was based on the 2018 Code of Practice on Consumer Internet of Things Security, and ensure that the national regulator, the Office for Product Safety and Standards, is working effectively. We call on Government to address outstanding gaps in the regime created by a lack of action on improving security standards in workplace connected tech, device networks and data and cloud infrastructure. However, these interventions will be undermined if action is not taken to address the significant and persistent workforce gap in cybersecurity professionals and the shortage of core professional skills among cybersecurity professionals.
Our inquiry also explored the role of connected devices in broadening and exacerbating patterns of domestic abuse. We have found that tech abuse is becoming increasingly common. While there is no “silver bullet” for dealing with tech abuse, the Government can take more steps to tackle it by improving the criminal justice response, raising public awareness and convening industry to ensure manufacturers and distributors are mitigating risks through product design.