Is your coffee maker ready to pick you up?

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Photograph: Alexandra Suzy (shutterstock)

What does that say about glass houses? I’m still not properly caffeinated, so I don’t remember. Fortunately I can show up to the office coffee maker to remedy the situation — despite a recent report by a vaguely nationalistic data company that suggests Chinese coffeemakers are collecting user data for nefarious purposes. Ah, the sweet smell of sweeping generalizations in the morning!

Earlier this week, an ultra-conservative news outlet The Washington Times reported in recent claims of New Kite Data Labs, a think tank dedicated to exploring “how China is changing the role of private enterprise and using liberal democracies’ openness against itself.” (Hmm, damn!) The company was founded by the American researcher Christopher Baldingwhich recently published a report suggesting that one brand of smart coffee machines – those made by Kalerm in Jiangsu, China—are collecting user data. “China is interested in the full nature of data, from military data from top-secret projects to your morning cup of coffee,” the report says.

All right. Let’s get into it.

Is your coffee maker spying on you?

First, let’s explore the claims put forward by New Kite Data Labs. According to the company’s report, coffee The machines collect customer information, including a user’s relative location, beverage preferences, and, in commercial environments, such as hotel breakfast buffets, different types of payments and routing information. (It is unclear which coffee maker model the last point may apply to, although Kalerm offers a great business model, like the kind you’d see in a convenience store. This model appears to accept user payment for coffee.)

The report specifies:

“While automated household machines do not collect payment data, payment data can undoubtedly be considered confidential information, especially in a commercial environment. From payment type to routing information, payment details can and should be considered confidential information.”

Yes true. payment information It is sensitive information. Here’s the problem: New Kite Data Labs was unable to determine whether commercial Kalerm coffee makers are used to store payment information collected from consumers outside of China.

“While we cannot say that this company is collecting data from non-Chinese users, all evidence indicates that its machines may collect data from users outside mainland China and store the data in China,” the report said.

What evidence, you may ask? It is unclear. Balding told the Washington Times that New Kite would not disclose its research methods after the report was published. Because? While the Schedules puts it, Balding “doesn’t want China to stop him from learning more about its data collection.”

The problem with the Internet of Things

I need to clarify that I am not advocating the Internet of Things or IoT. (If you’re not familiar, IoT refers to any kind of “smart” home device – your Amazon Echos, your Roombas, your Nest thermometers, etc..) I don’t see any possible reason to buy a smart coffee maker, and IoT presents safety problems. Few years ago, we report that certain smart coffee machines have become vulnerable to hackers after a major ransomware attack. This is bad! I’m not disputing that.

The problem with the New Kite report — aside from its obscure research methods and dubious data — is its bizarre nationalistic bent. “China is really collecting data on anything and everything,” Balding told the paper. Washington Times. “As a manufacturing hub of the world, they can put this feature on all kinds of devices that come out all over the world.”

Yes man. The same for basically every other big company on Earth.

Do IoT vendors take advantage of poor security and unclear data policies? They sure do – but so does the USBased companies like Facebook and Amazon. If you’re worried that your smart coffee maker is collecting your data, I have some bad news about your smart vacuum. And your Echo speaker. And your television. And your car.

Painting IoT vulnerabilities as a nationalistic concern in the face of an “adversary state” gets nowhere. If you really want to defend data privacy, start with the tech companies in your backyard. Or just don’t buy a smart coffee maker. If you need me, I’ll be staggering to my coffee pot at home, robe open, relishing the freedom of knowing my coffee pot is dumb as a rock.

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