Citizen, Protect Thyself: Privacy in the Internet of Things

Online Security Protection Internet Safety Business People

In-brief: Despite the technical interconnectivity that the IoT brings, there is no technology that will help us regain our privacy, writes Marc Blackmer of Cisco. We are responsible for guarding our privacy as we adopt advances such as connected cars, connected homes and social media-integrated applications.

I was raised by mother with what I would consider a healthy level of paranoia about protecting privacy, so I was ready when the wired world came into existence. If you’d asked me back in the 1990s, I was doing a pretty good job of keeping my online persona separate from my real persona – until the day my sister called. “Hey! I just searched on your name. Your home phone and address were the first listing.”

My first thought immediately went to privacy breach. Who would have done this? What service did they break into? Was I dox’ed before doxing was even a thing? When I realized who the “attacker” was who had exposed my personal information, I was flabbergasted.

Marc Blackmer, Cisco Systems
Marc Blackmer is a Product Marketing Manager for Industry Solutions at Cisco Systems.

It is not news that we are living in a time where our ideas of privacy are changing. The comfort so-called “Millennials” have sharing their private lives is shocking to many of who grew up in an unwired world. A fellow Generation X colleague suggested to me that this increased transparency of our private lives, where everything is shared and nothing is forgotten, will lead to a more forgiving society. After all: if most of us have had our mistakes shared online, then most of us will need to be understanding of others’ mistakes, right?

[Read more thought leadership by Cisco’s Marc Blackmer.]

I’m not sure I agree. We also live in a time where our personal data is the currency of marketers, retailers, governments, trolls, and criminals. The more we’re willing to share, the more money there is to be made for those who wish to sell to us or exploit us.

These days, it’s remarkable to me how much transparency I’m willing to live with compared to my attitude in the 1990s. Granted, I’m a guy who is willing to share personal anecdotes, who likes to promote my hometown, and who likes connecting with others. Still, I have had to resign myself to the fact that there are some aspects of my privacy that I’ll never get back.

It is this societal shift that concerns me most because, despite the technical interconnectedness that the IoT brings, there is no technology that will help us regain our privacy. It is we humans who are responsible for guarding our privacy as we adopt advances such as connected cars, connected homes and social media-integrated applications.

We need to understand that the IoT will be an ever-expanding amplifier projecting the bits of our lives across the Internet in milliseconds after we press enter on our keyboards. Who was it that exposed me? It was my own city government, which published my information as part of the public record during a school budget meeting where I had spoken. All those years of vigilance were gone in one fell swoop.

Will the IoT facilitate our evolution to a more understanding society? Will we willingly embrace a new definition of personal privacy? Or, will we resign ourselves to a lost cause? As we continue to embrace IoT advances in our daily lives, now is the time to determine what steps we need to take to address these new and unforeseen privacy concerns.


  1. Marlene Fuentes


  2. Tapping this article from a while back, because I’m curious:

    McNealy (Sun (RIP)), late 1990s: “You have zero privacy anyway. Get over it.”
    Ellison (Oracle), same time period: “The privacy you’re concerned about is largely an illusion. All you have to give up is your illusions, not any of your privacy.”
    Blackmer (Cisco), ca this article: “There is no technology that will help us regain our privacy.”
    This week: ManTech gets acquired. One can argue, quite successfully, ManTech doesn’t like your privacy.

    The question I have is, how can one guarantee safety in any of these approaches (which is to say, ANY privacy)? Saying noone has privacy, saying ‘you can’t regain your privacy’ – these cannot coexist. So, someone’s clearly full of shit — and it’s always the companies with a lot of money exploiting people (Cisco, how’s that Netflow income treating you?)

    Surely privacy isn’t binary. Why are [rich, powerful] people suggesting it is? Lack of privacy == income.

    APPROACHES are necessary that satisfy all parties.

    Suggesting people can ‘protect themselves’ from parties that clearly have a vested interest in devastating privacy for profit (and endless resources to do so) is either delusional or outright malicious. It’s something that surely even the utterers themselves cannot believe unless it doesn’t apply to themselves.

    These are the very people who are unwilling to put their money where their mouth is. Or who take over entire sections of California parks for weddings and ‘remould them’ and call them ‘private weddings’ (Facebook guys, so young, don’t know the rules yet).

    For once I want to see responsible C-level executives say something that signifies an attempt at real compromise (and diplomacy), not merely demanding others compromise and give in.