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January 30, 2014

With smart gadgets everywhere, tech companies face new privacy questions

With smart gadgets becoming a ubiquitous part of everyday life – embedded in cars, watches, glasses refrigerators and even thermostats – many fear the ways that private companies could misuse private customer data.

At the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this month, Jim Farley, a marketing executive at Ford Motor Company caused a stir when he said, “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.”

Ford later went on to insist that it doesn’t track or transmit data from vehicles without a customer’s consent.

Google and Microsoft have also recently faced accusations that their products could violate users’ privacy. Google recently bought the smart thermostat and appliance company Nest Labs, which collects data from the home and connects to phones.

Next co-founder Matt Roger was quick to respond, saying, “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.


Warm up questions
  1. What are some electronics you use that collect data on your location and what you’re doing?
  2. Should some types of data be private? Which kinds?
  3. Do you ever think about how your personal data might be used by companies? Why or why not?
Discussion questions

Jim Farley, a marketing executive at Ford Motor Company caused a stir when he said, “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.”

  1. What questions do you have after reading that quote?
  2. How can you be sure that technnology companies aren’t using your private data?
  3. Why do you think that Google bought Nest Labs? What direction might they want to take their corporate mission through this technology?
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