The Whole POINT of the Internet of Things Is So Big Brother Can Spy On You

The government is already spying on us through spying on us through our computers, phones, cars, buses, streetlights, at airports and on the street, via mobile scanners and drones, through our credit cards and smart meters (update), television, doll, and in many other ways.

Spying in the U.S. is worse than under Nazi Germany, the Stasi, J. Edgar Hoover … or Orwell’s 1984.

Yesterday, U.S. Intelligence Boss James Clapper said that the government will spy on Americans through the internet of things (“IoT”):

In the future, intelligence services might use the [IoT] for identification, surveillance, monitoring, location tracking, and targeting for recruitment, or to gain access to networks or user credentials.

The Guardian notes today:

As a category, the internet of things is useful to eavesdroppers both official and unofficial for a variety of reasons, the main one being the leakiness of the data.


There are a wide variety of devices that can be used to listen in, and some compound devices (like cars) that have enough hardware to form a very effective surveillance suite all by themselves.


There’s no getting around the fundamental creepiness of the little pinhole cameras in new smart TVs (and Xbox Kinects, and laptops, and cellphones), but the less-remarked-on aspect – the audio – may actually be more pertinent to anyone with a warrant trying to listen in. Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society observed that Samsung’s voice recognition software in its smart TVs had to routinely send various commands “home” to a server where they were processed for relevant information; their microphones are also always on, in case you’re trying to talk to them. Televisions are also much easier to turn on than they used to be: a feature creeping into higher-end TVs called “wake on LAN” allows users to power on televisions over the internet (this is already standard on many desktop PCs).


A cyberattack on toymaker VTech exposed the personal data of 6.4m children last year; it was a sobering reminder of the vulnerability of kids on the web. But technology waits for no man. Mattel’s Hello Barbie doll works the same way the Nest and Samsung voice operators do, by passing kids’ interactions into the cloud and returning verbal responses through a speaker in the doll. HereO manufactures a watch for kids with a GPS chip in it; Fisher-Price makes a WiFi-enabled stuffed animal. Security researchers at Rapid7 looked at both and found that they were easy to compromise on company databases, and in the case of the watch, use to locate the wearer.

Yves Smith has the definitive comment on Clapper’s statement:

Oh, come on. The whole point of the IoT is spying. The officialdom is just trying to persuade you that it really is a big consumer benefit to be able to tell your oven to start heating up before you get home.

Personally, I’m a tech geek, and love the latest gadgets and toys.  But I don’t want my dishwasher or refrigerator sending messages to me … let alone the intelligence agencies.  Despite all of the hype about IoT, I don’t know anyone who does.

We’ve previously noted that the CIA wants to spy on you through your dishwasher and other “smart” appliances. As Slate notes:

Watch out: the CIA may soon be spying on you—through your beloved, intelligent household appliances, according to Wired.

In early March, at a meeting for the CIA’s venture capital firm In-Q-Tel, CIA Director David Petraeus reportedly noted that “smart appliances” connected to the Internet could someday be used by the CIA to track individuals. If your grocery-list-generating refrigerator knows when you’re home, the CIA could, too, by using geo-location data from your wired appliances, according to SmartPlanet.

“The current ‘Internet of PCs’ will move, of course, toward an ‘Internet of Things’—of devices of all types—50 to 100 billion of which will be connected to the Internet by 2020,” Petraeus said in his speech. He continued:

Items of interest will be located, identified, monitored, and remotely controlled through technologies such as radio-frequency identification, sensor networks, tiny embedded servers, and energy harvesters—all connected to the next-generation Internet using abundant, low cost, and high-power computing—the latter now going to cloud computing, in many areas greater and greater supercomputing, and, ultimately, heading to quantum computing.

And see these comments by John Whitehead and Michael Snyder.

The Guardian notes:

Just a few weeks ago, a security researcher found that Google’s Nest thermostats were leaking users’ zipcodes over the internet. There’s even an entire search engine for the internet of things called Shodan that allows users to easily search for unsecured webcams that are broadcasting from inside people’s houses without their knowledge.

While people voluntarily use all these devices, the chances are close to zero that they fully understand that a lot of their data is being sent back to various companies to be stored on servers that can either be accessed by governments or hackers.


Author and persistent Silicon Valley critic Evgeny Morozov summed up the entire problem with the internet of things and “smart” technology in a tweet last week:

Update:  The highest-level NSA whistleblower in history (William Binney) – the NSA executive who created the agency’s mass surveillance program for digital information, 36-year NSA veteran widely regarded as a “legend” within the agency, who served as the senior technical director within the agency, and managed thousands of NSA employees – read this post, and told Washington’s Blog:

Yep, that summarizes it fairly well.  It does not deal with industry or how they will use the data; but, that will probably be an extension of what they do now.  This whole idea of monitoring electronic devices is objectionable.

If forced to buy that stuff,  I will do my best to disconnect these monitoring devices also look for equipment on the market that is not connected in any way

Postscript: As security expert Bruce Schneier points out, the entire concept of the IoT is wildly insecure and vulnerable to hacking.

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  • Ccybercircusontrastp

    Did you intend to write that the whole point of the internet[as it is now]is to
    gain control of your Private Property and manipulate your thoughts ?
    ….You are not just being spied on……you are being manipulated into proper
    subjects or LD-50’d for the benefit of “inhumanity”.
    Do you understand that hidden cameras have been secretly designed + located behind TV
    screens and PC Monitors and Watches and Smartphones ?
    The tiny camera lenses that are visible on your device may be turned off or covered over but
    the hidden camera behind the screen of your electronic[shock]device is always on……..
    and has been conveying all forms of data about you and your body to the Central
    Scrutinizers since the day you chose to acquire it and turn it on[yourself].

    • Tom kauser

      Its wet T-shirt night

    • disqus_bwVSCHoDOx

      how may I find out if the ‘behind the screen’ theory is verified, without taking apart my own computer?

  • Yep! May 23, 2015 Researchers Predicted In 1971 that Debit Cards Would Become the Ultimate Spy Tool

    We noted in 2013: The Wall Street Journal reported that the NSA spies on Americans’ credit card transactions. Senators Wyden and Udall – both on the Senate Intelligence Committee, with access to all of the top-secret information about the government’s spying programs – write: Section 215 of the Patriot Act can be used to collect any type of records whatsoever … including information on credit card purchases, medical records, library records, firearm sales records, financial information and a range of other sensitive subjects.

  • ArtBell

    A lot of people in rural areas can’t get the internet even if they wanted to. I see a lot of people dumping their cell phones as well now.

  • jadan

    This Clapper character lied to Congress. Why isn’t he playing cards with Bernie Madoff?

    • diogenes

      because it’s part of his job description.

  • K. Chris C.

    Only a criminal government need spy on the people.

    An American citizen, not US subject.

  • Reverend Draco

    I’m a tech geek, too. Hell, I was the first computer teacher at my high school – I had to teach the teacher so he could teach the beginning class, and I taught the advanced class. . . as a Sophomore.

    The IoT is a non-starter at my home. If I could have buried the guy who came to install the “smart” meter, I would have.
    That’s are close to my house (a pole in the far corner of the lot) as the IoT is going to get.

  • Blank Reg

    No worries. Wait until we have a couple hundred billion of these devices out there. Right now, they’re programmed to “phone home”, be it the manufacturer, the NSA, or some other 3rd party. But wait until some clever hackers break in and tell the little beasties to start talking TO EACH OTHER. Each device is now a neuron in a 200-billion-neuron neural net. Wait until it flashes into sentience. Humanity will have a lot of uncomfortable and inconvenient questions to answer. So, go for it, NSA! The first roasting spit in digital hell will be all yours.

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  • Southern

    So true, even our best efforts to expose malfeasance only helps to strengthen the defenses of the corrupted.

    No wonder civil liberties are going down the drain.