Jan 27, 2015 · 1 minute

Can a regulator struggling to manage the handling of data generated by smartphones keep pace with a world in which everything from refrigerators to toilets is connected to the Internet?

That's the question the Federal Trade Commission asks itself with a new call for tech companies to protect consumers after the so-called Internet of Things goes mainstream.

The FTC wants tech companies to do a few things: implement "reasonable" security in their products, minimize the amount of data collected via these devices, and ensure that consumers know what might be done with all of their previously-personal information.

But the FTC's report makes it clear that it won't be easy for anyone to handle this deluge of personal data. An Internet-connected world is too complex to be managed with one-size-fits-all rules.

That's at least partly because the Internet of Things is a disparate revolution referred to as a collective uprising. No reasonable person would expect thermostats, locks, car sensors, location-based tools, and a whole myriad of devices to abide by the same regulations. Yet that's exactly how many people think the Internet of Things should be governed.

And regulators still don't know how to handle changes brought about by smartphones. How much information should applications be allowed to access? With whom can that data be shared? Do consumers really know how much information smartphones gather?

The answers to those questions revolve around a single product category used by millions of people in much the same way. Finding the answers to those same questions as applied to the Internet of Things and all its chaos will probably be even harder.

The FTC can barely handle the relative trickle of information generated by smartphones. How will it stop consumers from drowning in the flood known as the Internet of Things?

[illustration by Brad Jonas]