Bluetooth Implants: A Threat to User Privacy?
Whether it is Fitbit, Apple, Samsung, or Garmin, new wearable Bluetooth technology devices are constantly joining the market. Tracking everything from step count, distance traveled, and heart rate, even a basic cardiogram has been built into wearables as capabilities have advanced. As a result, it has become more convenient for people to track more of their routines such as diet and exercise since wearables communicate directly with apps on their phones, tablets, and computers. The advances have also made it easier to share this data with family, friends and, more importantly, their physicians to set goals for improving one’s health.
After years of development and finally gaining FDA approval for human clinical trials, there is a new technology that may soon take center stage. Neuralink has developed what it is calling Telepathy, a cybernetic implant that works with Brain-Computer Interface (BCI) to relay thoughts. The first human subject received the implant on January 28th, 2024.
Aside from the fact that it is an implant versus a wearable, what makes this device so different is the intended function. While wearables often track physiology, this implant is designed to allow someone to control devices such as their computer or phone by simply thinking about it. The intent of this product’s development is to improve quality of life, specifically for those with paralysis such as quadriplegics.
Once implanted, neural activity is transmitted from the chip via Bluetooth to the BCI which will then translate the signal to an action for the end device. That action could be as simple as dialing the phone or as complex as controlling a robotic limb. Among the long-term goals for the program are restoring eyesight and full mobility.
These capabilities stem from noble intent, but just like with any other emerging technologies, the risks to privacy and security remain to be seen. Though a hacker would have to be much closer to gain control of a Bluetooth signal, it is possible. Depending on the type of Bluetooth hack, the results could include loss of connection between the implant and the BCI (Bluejacking), collection of personal data from the device (Bluesnarfing), or complete access similar to wiretapping a phone (Bluebugging).
As the Bluetooth signal in this case will be transmitting someone’s thoughts, there could be other concerns with regards to privacy and perhaps exploitation at the risk of disclosing embarrassing thoughts. Even more frightening would be a scenario in which thoughts or ideas can be transmitted into the brain which are then carried out as actions through the implant. Therefore, security protocols will need to be hardened and the user will have to be extra vigilant to limit potential intrusions, especially since there is currently not as much focus on Bluetooth security.