Alan Kay once said that television should be “the last technology we should be allowed to invent and put out without a surgeon general’s warning.” Kay was referring to how technology can be pernicious to our cultural and social development. Troy Hunt–web security guru and creator of the email breach search site Have I Been Pwned?–has imagined those surgeon general’s warnings focusing on the very real dangers of sharing data through the internet of things.
Hunt decided to create warning labels after he learned that VTech had asked a court to drop the lawsuit that followed a massive hack of one of the company’s toys, a terrible Wi-Fi-connected tablet for kids named InnoTab. VTech argued something about how its updated terms of services warned people about the security risks. Obviously, Hunt thought this was bullshit because nobody in the entire universe reads those endless jargon rolls.
So he took a page from the graphic warnings on cigarettes packages in his Australian homeland and designed labels to be placed on the packaging of a variety of internet-connected hardware: Interactive bears, pet feeding devices, electric cars, dishwashers, toilets, and even vibrators that learn your preferred patterns of pleasure and store them on the internet with very little guarantee of security. The labels use bold typography over high contrast backgrounds with clear sentences that describe the effect of potential security breaches in that particular product.
These are funny because they highlight an uncomfortable truth: If we have learned anything in recent history, it is that everything that is connected to a network or stores data somewhere on the internet can be hacked. And when companies like VTech, Xerox or Mattel, among countless others, don’t seem to give a damn about users’ data security, we have to assume that every IoT device endangers our privacy. Putting these labels in every one of these products would be a sobering reminder that our data is never really safe.