Internet of thingsChances are, you’ve been hearing an awful lot about the Internet of things over the past few years. As ubiquitous as the term is, many people might not know exactly what this term means (or what it means for them). To help you understand what it means and how it affects you, we’ve put together the basics you need to know.

What exactly is the Internet of things?

The Internet of things is actually a fairly simple concept, essentially, it is the connection of any device that can be turned on and off to the Internet (as well as connecting these devices to each other). Devices that are covered by the umbrella of the Internet of things are diverse — everything from your smartphone and computer to fridges and wearable devices like pedometers. If it has the potential to connect, then it’s a part of the Internet of things, and the number of “things” is growing by the day. According to IT research company Gartner, the number of connected devices worldwide is projected to grow to 26 billion by the year 2020.

Why does it matter to me?

There are an awful lot of benefits to having so many devices that are able to connect with one another. On a small-scale, personal level, this connectivity allows you to sync your personal calendar between your phone, your car and your work computer so you can be sure you’re always aware of upcoming appointments. Home automation lets you connect all sorts of things, from your lights to your heating and cooling systems to your home security and control it from anywhere. The Internet of things has enabled people to streamline their lives and make the most out of their time. On a larger scale, this type of connectivity is being employed to help improve life for people across the board — such as conserving energy use in cities.

Are there drawbacks to this?

Like most technological advances, the Internet of things presents problems in addition to all of its solutions. One of the primary issues that people talk about when it comes to Internet-connected devices is security, and for good reason. As breaches with companies like children’s smart toy maker VTech have recently shown, the data collected and stored by these devices isn’t always secured as much as people might hope. It’s easy to think of the convenience of a smart coffee maker that is activated when your phone’s alarm goes off in the morning, but what happens if someone hacks into your coffee maker and gains access to your entire network? As absurd as it might sound, unprotected home networks are all-too-common, and cybercriminals know it.

Privacy is another big issue in the world of connected devices. How much control and ownership do people really have over the data created by their connected devices? Understanding how to protect your privacy is equally as important these days as knowing when you can and can’t expect your data to remain private. This is an especially big deal when it comes to biometric data, which many devices are starting to collect and store as biometric technology becomes a more frequently used feature.

It can also be argued that not every device necessarily needs to be connectable. Sure, there are plenty of benefits to smart technology in your car that connects to apps on your phone, but how much does a smart dishwasher truly benefit most people — especially considering all the risks of security and privacy issues these devices present? These are questions everyone should ask, especially when considering purchasing or installing devices that are part of the large network that is the Internet of things.

Follow our privacy blog to learn more ways to protect your personal information in every aspect of your life.