If you can't trust health-related wearables, can you trust sex robots?

If you can't trust health-related wearables, can you trust sex robots to be secure and protect your privacy?

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Hyundai is getting into the business of producing exoskeletons, claiming that it can make Iron Man-like suits much less expensive than other exoskeleton brands priced between $80,000 and $40,000. The H-Mex model in particular is meant to give paraplegics a way to walk, so hopefully Hyundai’s exoskeletons will be downright cheap; then it might be able to accomplish the goal of helping people walk by being affordable for folks on very limited budgets who need it.

The crutches used along with the robot-legs have controls like a game controller. Engadget explained, “One button would move the left leg forward, and the other would move the right. There are also buttons for sitting down, standing up and walking up and down stairs. It's like a game controller for getting around.”

This makes me hopeful as I know many different people who need such a device, but it may be 2019 – 2020 before H-Mex is available for purchase.

Can’t trust all health-related wearable devices

While the exoskeleton seems to be more robotic-focused than some other health-related wearable devices, not all wearable devices – such as “watches, fitness bands, and so-called ‘smart’ clothing” should be trusted. In fact, researchers at the Center for Digital Democracy and American University warned (pdf) that although the ownership of health wearable devices has nearly doubled in the past year, many pose privacy risks. Big Data – data collection and marketing – is a big part of the problem with wearables.

The CDD wrote,

As their use becomes more widespread, and as their functionalities become even more sophisticated, the extent and nature of data collection will be unprecedented. Biosensors will routinely be able to capture not only an individual’s heart rate, body temperature, and movement, but also brain activity, moods, and emotions. These data can, in turn, be combined with personal information from other sources—including health-care providers and drug companies—raising such potential harms as discriminatory profiling, manipulative marketing, and security breaches.

Trust a sex robot?

If you can’t trust your fitness band, should a person trust a sex robot? Yes, it sounds like we are moving closer to that actually becoming a thing. Even a keynote speaker at the Second International Congress on Love and Sex with Robots in London is concerned about personal data which will be collected – recorded and stored – and how that data will be used.

Dr. Kate Devlin, a senior lecturer in Computing at Goldsmiths, University of London, said, “We tick the box of the terms and conditions without checking them.” Although user feedback and aggregate anonymized data collected can be helpful to improve products, Devlin asked, “Do we want people to know when we have sex and how we have sex?”

Another speaker, Oliver Bendel of the University of Applied Sciences and Arts at Northwestern Switzerland, suggested that sex robots could “over-exert their human lovers.” Even if too much robot sex didn’t kill a person, would anyone really want that data getting out there and shared, possibly used for targeted advertisements or other marketing purposes? Bendel also raised ethical questions such as if a sex robot should have moral skills or have the ability to “entice” human lovers?

As the Mirror pointed out, there are already companies that make internet-connected sex toys; We-Vibe, for example, has been accused of collecting very personal data without user consent. There needs to be a great deal of effort put into protecting sex robot consumers’ privacy, both in the robot itself and any companion app.

When you consider how hackable most IoT products are, how much security effort will go into sex robots? Surely people wouldn’t want hackers getting hold of their intimate information from such a bot? Think about how damaging it was to some people to be exposed for having Ashley Madison accounts; the company recently agreed to pay a $1.6 million settlement related to the 2015 data breach.

If not enough thought goes into building in security from the start, could a sex robot become infected with malware and added to botnets such as Mirai? Could people really attached to their sex robot be persuaded to pay a ransomware demand to use it again?

For right now it all seems a bit too science fiction for me to take seriously, but the sex bots are going to become a thing. And even if that thing doesn’t sex you to death, or turn you into a person who prefers bots-over-humans – hey it happened on HBO’s fictional Westworld – will privacy or security be built into these bots from the ground up? Or only bolted on after some disastrous breach?

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