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A Tech Foundation Discusses Security And Privacy When It Comes To Smart Devices


Is your smart device keeping tabs on you? Are Siri or Alexa sharing information you'd rather they not? One tech foundation wants people to think about security and privacy as much as performance or price when it comes to smart devices, from the Amazon Dot to water bottles. The Mozilla Foundation has what amounts to a naughty list of gifts - the privacy not included guide. Ashley Boyd is vice president for advocacy for the Mozilla Foundation. She joins us from Berkeley, Calif. Thanks so much for being with us.

ASHLEY BOYD: Thanks so much for having me.

SIMON: Why the need for this guide?

BOYD: We know that people are going to be asking themselves is the gift that I'm giving or asking for going to be secure and private? And as you said, most holiday shopping guides are focused on price and performance, and this guide is focused on privacy and security.

SIMON: It's not just smart speakers, is it? It's a lot of devices that we've quite willingly and comfortably made part of our everyday lives.

BOYD: That's absolutely right. And we're particularly looking at the area of connected-to gifts because more and more consumer products are connected to the Internet. So one interesting space that we've looked at is this new emerging toy category of drones. I have an 11-year-old who's pretty excited about drones, and it turns out that many of them connect to insecure wireless and therefore can be taken over, both the information they collect but also the device itself. So we think that consumers would want to know information like that when they're considering a drone gift.

SIMON: I mean, forgive me, but that's a movie plot, I mean, the 11-year-old who has a drone that's taken over by some nefarious power who - you can fill in that blank.

BOYD: Indeed. It may be - provide an experience that's more exciting than the child or the parent is counting on.

SIMON: Water bottles?

BOYD: Water bottles - so the design here is a good intention, which is to actually help people drink more water by connecting with their friends and almost to have a bit of a competition about how much water they're drinking. However, it does actually connect location, and you might not want to provide all the details to your network about where you're drinking water and when. So it's not just an issue of being creepy. There's a real safety concern that we're wanting to address and make folks aware of.

SIMON: Don't we all, at some point, hit a little check box agreeing to have this privacy disclosure that - and we agree to have this information made available?

BOYD: Yes. So the privacy policy is where most of this information is really laid out for consumers. But most anyone who's interacted with a privacy policy knows that they're lengthy, they're filled with legalese, and many of them require even a graduate degree reading level to go through them. So this is a bit of where this relationship between the companies and consumers really gets off on the wrong foot. We don't think you should have to have a college degree in order to read a privacy policy. And wouldn't it be great if we had something like a nutrition label? You pick up a box for a product, you look at about it online and you see almost in a quick scan what information it collects and what security features it has. We think that that's possible, and we think companies can do better.

SIMON: People care about this?

BOYD: I think increasingly people are caring about it. This year, of course, we saw Cambridge Analytica - what a good example of people doing one thing online and it turning into something entirely different. So we're seeing people change their behavior online and wanting more information. And that's really why we provided and created this guide. We think that the information that consumers have isn't enough to match their interest on this issue.

SIMON: Ashley Boyd with the Mozilla Foundation, thanks so much for being with us.

BOYD: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.