The season of holiday gift buying is upon us, and it can be hard to resist the coolest new tech gadgets. But not all items are created equal when it comes to privacy, experts say.
In the US, there are few limits on what companies can do with your data, putting the onus on us to do our homework, says Hayley Tsukayama, a senior legislative activist at the digital advocacy group the Electronic Frontier Foundation. She urges people to think through the privacy implications of gifts they’re giving to friends and family.
“Think about what information is going to be collected,” she said. “And how comfortable you are with that information potentially flowing to just anybody … [Companies] are certainly sharing [user data] and they don’t really have to tell you who they’re sharing it with or why.”
Such items might include “smart devices” that track our behavior, such as sleep and fitness trackers, as well as popular self-discovery tools such as DNA testing kits.
With the help of experts, we broke down the privacy implications of some of this season’s latest offerings – so you can give the gift of privacy.
Amazon Halo Rise
What it is: The Halo Rise is an Alexa-enabled sleep monitoring device that uses “silent, no-contact sensor technology” to track your “body movement and breathing to calculate sleep stages”. In other words, it knows when you’re sleeping and knows when you’re awake.
The Halo Rise. Photograph: AP
In addition to monitoring the movement of the person sleeping closest to it, the bedside tracker monitors the environment, making notes on “room temperature, humidity and light disturbances” to assess a person’s sleep quality. The device then connects to an Amazon-owned app called Halo and provides a “sleep score”.