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What the Wireless Industry is Doing About Privacy

Man working on smartphone and computer with the words Data Protection and Privacy shown.

Privacy is a complex issue in general, with many challenges faced by the wireless industry. Consumers are understandably concerned about the ability of some smart home technology to collect private information when it’s in use, and even when it’s not. We put a lot of trust in service providers to handle our information with care. That’s why there are stringent regulations in place designed to protect consumer privacy, like the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA), the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA).

While government mandates and regulatory bodies are in place to protect consumers, we as consumers also have a responsibility to be vigilant and ensure we are not signing away information we would rather keep private. Consumers readily accept terms of use and agree to privacy policies when using a new app, service or product because we’re eager to start using whatever was just purchased. It’s rare for consumers to read through these statements in their entirety before accepting, partially because of the length but often also because we don’t fully understand all the legal jargon.

It’s clear that improvements could be made to this system to better educate consumers and help them navigate how to protect their personal information. For the broader industry to take a strong stance on protecting consumer privacy, we need to make privacy policies easier to understand. This could be as simple as adding a consumer-friendly summary of important points as an upfront to the complete privacy policy, perhaps even in bullet point form. Until this happens, industry stakeholders can all make individual efforts to ensure we’re following the rules, gaining consumer trust and protecting privacy at every turn.

Working toward new standards of security and privacy

Creating strong standards for the wireless industry is one way we can work together to improve privacy protections. At Cognitive Systems, we’re focused on making a difference in the area we know best: WiFi Sensing (upon which our WiFi Motion™ technology is designed).

In partnership with the Wireless Broadband Alliance (WBA), we established a working group and through a yearlong industry collaboration, published the WiFi Sensing Whitepaper, which identifies gaps that need to be addressed to fully realize the potential of WiFi Sensing technology in the broader wireless industry. Security and privacy are areas that were highlighted as needing attention.

Part of the problem is that wireless networks have many layers, and evolution requires new features to be added in a way that maintains compatibility with older devices. The first introduction of standards which govern the lowest level of WiFi originated back in 1999. As you can imagine, the way WiFi is used has changed significantly since its first introduction over 20 years ago, and many new features have been added while still maintaining compatibility with legacy devices. This is necessary, because it is not practical for wireless network infrastructure to be rebuilt or for consumers to purchase new devices during each new iteration of the technology.

While we may develop better technologies and security protocols with each new generation, eliminating potential privacy holes in previous generations would require mass coordination between all devices, which is simply not feasible. Our best way forward is to ensure that future generations are safer, which is why the development and maintenance of standards is important.

Making progress

The good news is that our WiFi Sensing group is getting closer to formalizing new standards that help govern sensing operations. Together with group members, including Intel, we have helped formalize the scope of work required to make it happen. Once the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) standards council approves developing new sensing specific standards, a task group will be formed, and sensing will become an official addition to the WiFi specifications.

We are not doing this important work alone. For a new standard to make sense, the industry must come together. Cognitive Systems is just one voice of many voices. It is our goal to keep these issues at the forefront of the conversation in order to convince those who design the components of our technology, and who implement the protocols, of the important implications these standards will have across the industry. And, as other issues arise from different stakeholders, we are ready and willing to take them to the IEEE group for consideration.

Practicing what we preach

While Cognitive Systems doesn’t claim to be able to solve the world’s privacy concerns, we can certainly do our best to be good citizens and advocates for privacy protection in our industry. That’s why we’re proud to uphold strict compliance with PIPEDA, GDPR and CCPA in everything we do, and to work with other stakeholders to improve the way we all work together for the greater good. We’re also proud to offer an inherently private solution in WiFi Motion™, which doesn’t collect or store any personally identifiable information.

Privacy protection should be a top priority in our industry. It’s good for consumers and it’s good for business. Consumers trust companies like ours to handle their information with care. Maybe it’s time for us all to band together and show them that we’re taking that trust seriously.

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