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How companies use tech that tracks you at home and on the road

January 23, 2014 at 6:45 PM EDT  | Updated: Jan 23, 2014 at 12:00 AM
Smart gadgets collect user information so that they can adapt to individual habits and personal tastes. But as this technology becomes more pervasive -- embedded in automobiles, refrigerators, even fire alarms and thermostats -- many fear the ways that private companies could misuse private customer data. Jeffrey Brown reports.

GWEN IFILL: Finally tonight, a different take on some very big questions surrounding privacy focused on private companies and the technology you buy.

Jeffrey Brown has our conversation, starting with some background.

JEFFREY BROWN: Computers, smartphones, accessories, tech products are more and more pervasive in our lives and more and more raising concerns about the ability of companies to gather, store and track personal information.

Examples abound.

MAN: Introducing Xbox One.


JEFFREY BROWN: That Kinect camera on the new Xbox One gaming system? It’s always on, though Microsoft insists personal data is not transmitted in any form without permission.

Automaker Ford caused a stir at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this month. A top marketing executive was discussing new tracking technology, when he said this:

JIM FARLEY, Ford Motor Company: By the way, we know everyone who breaks the law, we know exactly when you do it, because we have a GPS sensor in your car, we know where you are, and we know how fast you’re driving. But, seriously, the — we don’t supply that data to other people either.

JEFFREY BROWN: Later, Ford insisted it doesn’t track or transmit data from vehicles without a customer’s consent.

And new alarms went off last week when Google announced it is buying Nest Labs for $3.2 billion. Nest makes smart thermostats and other appliances that collect data in the home and connect to phones. In a post on the company’s Web site, Nest co-founder Matt Rogers said: “Our privacy policy clearly limits the use of customer information to providing and improving Nest’s products and services.”

The company says that means it will not share the data with its new owner, Google.