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Communications of the ACM

Law and technology

The Internet of Things We Don't Own?

The Internet of Things We Don't Own?, illustrative collage

Credit: Alicia Kubista / Andrij Borys Associates

Cars, refrigerators, televisions, wristwatches. When we buy these everyday objects, we rarely give much thought to whether or not we own them. We pay for them, we possess them, we wear them or put them in our garages or on our shelves, so we have very little reason to question their legal status or their loyalties. Yet in the last decade or so, we have witnessed a subtle and effective shift to cede control over our purchases, especially when they contain software.

It began with digital content. Movies started telling us where and when they could be played. Soon our music informed us how many devices it would live on. Then our library books began to automatically re-encrypt themselves on the date they became overdue. Now our phones will not allow us to delete certain apps; our televisions listen for when we take a bathroom break, and mattresses can keep tabs on where we slept last night.


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