FTC wants to keep closer watch on the Internet of Things

A new office will look at the privacy implications of smart homes, connected cars, mobile payments, and big data.

As technology plays a bigger role in running our homes, connecting our cars, and handling our finances, the Federal Trade Commission wants to keep a closer watch on the privacy and security implications.

The agency is creating an Office of Technology Research and Investigation, whose goal is to examine "privacy, data security, connected cars, smart homes, algorithmic transparency, emerging payment methods, big data, and the Internet of Things."

The office isn't entirely new, but is instead the successor to an existing FTC unit that looked at privacy on mobile devices. That group has previously put together reports on the lack of privacy disclosures in children's apps and weak data protections in consumer shopping apps.

For the new office, the FTC is hiring a couple more people to help expand the research. The agency is also promising to post more frequently to its blog about its research findings and other issues.

Keep in mind that the new office is strictly for research purposes, and isn't directly responsible for enforcing privacy laws. Still, the office's findings can lead to deeper investigations into specific companies, and can help advise FTC staff as they looking into potential consumer protection law violations. In recent years, the agency has settled privacy complaints withYelp,Snapchat, and Google, and negotiated a $32.5 million payout from Apple over kids' in-app purchases.

Why this matters: Privacy and security will become major issues as previously-dumb devices like dishwashers and door locks learn to talk to each other through the Internet. Experts routinely sound the alarm about the potential for security breaches, yet many companies don't seem to take the matter seriously . While FTC's new office won't make these concerns go away, it at least increases the odds that negligence won't go unpunished.

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