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Web sightings: Protecting your privacy from your dishwasher and coffee maker

Press a button on your washing machine and it automatically buys detergent. Speak the name of a product or scan its bar code into a small device and it's on its way to you. These are not fantasies; they'll be coming to you in the near future through's Dash program. Objects embedded with the ability to transfer data over a network without requiring human-to-human or human-to-computer interaction -- known as the Internet of Things (or IoT) -- may seem wondrous, but they can be scary and invasive, too.

Coffee makers, dishwashers, refrigerators, door locks, light switches, thermostats, baby monitors, cars, Smart TVs and wearable devices are just some of the "things" already capable of monitoring you and your household and then sending that information back to manufacturers. Why care? The information can be used by the manufacturer or sold to other companies to target you for marketing purposes. Even when your information is only being stored, it can be harvested and used against you if a company is hacked.

Consumer Reports recommends taking these steps to protect your privacy:

1. Password-protect anything that collects personal information, using both Internet-based accounts and pass codes that you can enter on the device.

2. Read the privacy policy. If you want an indication of the kinds of information your device is tracking, that's where you'll find it.

3. Features that track you on a device are often given an on-off toggle in the settings menu. Find it and use it.

4. Don't leave connected devices on when you're not using them.

5. Install security updates. Periodically check the manufacturer's website to see whether the device has a patch, update or new firmware.

6. Take it offline. If Wi-Fi or cellular connectivity in a product doesn't offer a tangible benefit to you, buy the nonconnected version.


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