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Privacy Tech | CES 2018: The calm before the storm Related reading: Always on: The new era of continuous privacy compliance

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Greetings from rainy Las Vegas!

The IAPP has made it to CES 2018, where a countless number of exhibitors, from the biggest names in tech to startups looking for their chance in the spotlight, are gearing up to show their latest innovations to an excited global audience.

"Gearing up" is the key phrase here, as Monday was mostly about setting up for the big show when the exhibitor floors are opened to the masses on Tuesday. 

While strolling through the North Hall of the Las Vegas Convention Center, futuristic displays from Ford and Samsung were surrounded by dozens of people furiously setting up booths equipped with massive screens and VR demo chairs, while the exhibitor floors remained shrouded in mystery.

Ford and Samsung prepping for Tuesday's rush.

Ford and Samsung prepping for Tuesday's rush.

As work was being done on the ground floor, several conference sessions took place throughout the day, offering those in attendance an opportunity to gain insight into the major trends of this year's event. I went to several of these sessions to get a taste of what I should expect from CES 2018, while also looking to see what these trends could mean for privacy.

In fact, the first session I attended was "CES 2018 Trends to Watch," which seemed like a logical starting point. Presented by Consumer Technology Association Senior Director of Market Research Steve Koenig, many of the hot topics at CES 2018 are those the privacy industry is keeping an eye on, such as artificial intelligence, biometrics, smart cities, and the internet of things.

Consider smart speakers, for example. Koenig said smart speakers have become one of the rare, touchstone pieces of technology that has garnered massive adoption in a short period of time, similar to tablets in the early 2010s and DVD players in the early 2000s. It's a trend that is only going up, as the CTA expects a 60 percent growth in smart speaker sales in 2018.

One of the points Koenig made about the future of smart speakers really struck me as an unsettling prospect for the devices. Koenig said smart speakers could eventually move away from a mechanical call-and-response dynamic to something much more conversational. Essentially, you could build a relationship with your smart speaker, to the point where the speaker itself could initiate conversations rather than the other way around.

Koenig painted the idea with rose-colored glasses, while I sat there wondering just how invasive a device would have to be in order to know what I needed before I had the chance to say anything. Concerns around data collection and IoT devices have been well documented, but I would imagine adding a predictive element to the equation would only intensify those concerns.

For instance, what would happen if smart speakers began speaking to children without any prompting? I'm far from the "think of the children" type, but those questions would become commonplace should technology make such a leap.

Interestingly, the CTA also found 57 percent of U.S. customers had a net comfortable level (very comfortable + comfortable) of using biometric technology for "surveillance" purposes, higher than their comfortable level for personal convenience, personal transactions, and commercial purposes. 

"Connected Devices Connected Everything" was the next session on the list, which continued the conversation about IoT devices, but this time adding some of the risks involved with expanding their network. Topics in this session included the challenges device manufacturers face in attempting to monetize data and storing it in the cloud.

The conversation took an interesting turn when the topic of device security popped up. 

Speakers from the "Connected Devices Connecting Everything" session (From left to right): Peggy Smedley, BlackBerry Chief Security Officer Alex Manea, Samsung Senior Vice President and Global GM of ARTIK IoT Business James Stansberry, IBM Managing Director of Consumer Electronics Scott Burnett, and Google Director of Product Management Venkat Rapaka.

Speakers from the "Connected Devices Connecting Everything" session (From left to right): Peggy Smedley, host of The Peggy Smedley Show; Alex Manea, chief security officer, BlackBerry; James Stansberry, senior VP and global GM of ARTIK IoT Business, Samsung; Scott Burnett, managing director of consumer electronics, IBM; Venkat Rapaka, director of product management, Google.

Blackberry Chief Security Officer Alex Manea discussed whether manufacturers are doing enough to ensure their IoT devices cannot be penetrated by hackers, specifically smaller companies looking to break into the market. Manea said smaller companies are in such a rush to get their device to market, they may not fully consider implementing strong security practices, especially compared to the teams working on those issues at the far more prominent tech companies around the world.

There will be somewhere between 800 and 900 startups at CES this year, plus countless number of IoT device manufacturers. It will be interesting to talk with some of them to see whether they have the resources and the push to ensure their devices are up to standard.

The discussion also turned to who is at fault for distributed denial of service attacks. Manea said while manufacturers want to point to users for failing to change default usernames and passwords, the companies need to take some ownership for struggling to provide updates to their software. Manea made an interesting point about the long-term viability of those products. If an IoT device expects to stay useful for 10 to 20 years, manufacturers need to find a way to ensure long-term security, as hackers will eventually find their way to compromising a device.

The next session I went to was "Consumer Preferences for Personalized Viewing," which had some standard information on data sharing if you are well-versed in the field. People will trade information if they feel they can get something in return. One interesting tidbit came from the session: According to the CTA, users will be more likely to share their personal information for long-term sessions such as binge-watching television shows in locations such as the living room and receiving personalized content recommendations, rather than for short-term sessions such as an online transaction on devices such as a laptop.

It makes you wonder whether there still are lingering stigmas about trust in computers rather than other devices, plus the added concern whenever money is directly involved.

Statistics on the fear of hackers related to driverless cars.

Statistics on the fear of hackers related to driverless cars.

Last, but not least, I attended a session titled, "Who's Responsible for Driverless Car Liabilities and Risks?" where a panel discussed the results of an AIG report called "The Future of Mobility and Shifting Risk." 

The report polled drivers from the U.S., U.K., and Singapore about their views on autonomous vehicles. When asked about their concerns involving driverless cars, privacy was among the most prevalent issues. Of the respondents, 73 percent of U.S. drivers, 70 percent of U.K. drivers, and 64 percent of Singapore drivers cited privacy concerns as a major issue, with the breach of personal information as their most specific concern, followed by data security and having their location tracked.

These are problems companies will have to deal with sooner rather than later. While the general public believes driverless cars are decades off, the panel of speakers believe these vehicles will be on the road within the next couple of years. Lyft VP of Risk Solutions Kate Sampson said the ride-hailing company hopes to have most of their trips automated by 2021.

The future may be closer than we think.

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