Recalls in Review: A monthly spotlight on trending regulatory enforcement issues at the CPSC.

“Smart” homes and personal electronic devices are no longer a futuristic ideal.  Millions of internet-connected phones, TVs, wearable fitness trackers, home security devices, home appliances, and digital assistants are in use in the United States today.  The internet of things (“IoT”) is the use of network sensors in physical devices to allow for remote monitoring and control.  These devices have made great strides in making our lives more convenient.  But interconnectivity and data collection can also have serious security and privacy implications.

Despite the dramatic increase in the number of IoT products purchased by American consumers over the past few years, the law is slower in addressing any potential hazards posed by IoT technologies.  However, we expect to see more IoT product-related regulations enacted at the federal level over the next few years. We recently wrote about the new Internet of Things Cybersecurity Improvement Act, which was signed into law on December 4, 2020. The legislation charges the National Institute of Standards & Technology (NIST) with drafting and finalizing security requirements for IoT devices.

In today’s installment of “Recalls in Review,” we look back at CPSC regulatory actions involving IoT products.  The Commission has conducted approximately 22 recalls involving IoT products since 2014.  Only one recall of an IoT product has been conducted to date in 2020, despite the increase in both the number of such products on the market and the amount of time consumers have spent at home in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

A wide variety of “every day” consumer products have been adapted to enable connectivity.  We have seen recalls for home safety and convenience devices, such as smoke alarms and thermostats, laptop computers, wireless speakers and headphones, smartphones and smart TVs, wireless activity trackers, and even a pressure cooker.  We may see the number of IoT product recalls increase over the next several years as legislation and regulations governing the devices are enacted and more types of products are adapted to enable connectivity.

Fourteen of the IoT product recalls were conducted because the products posed fire or burn hazards to consumers, which is a common cause of recalls of electronic devices.  Several of these recalls involved lithium-ion batteries that had the potential to overheat or melt. Consumers should continue to check products with rechargeable batteries to determine the type of battery and keep an eye on any products with lithium-ion batteries. Additionally, three recalls were conducted due to tip-over hazards and another two were conducted due to a risk of electric shock.  A replacement product or part is the typical remedy offered by recalling firms. Less often, the remedy may be limited to a free repair or a refund.

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About Recalls in Review: As with all things, but particularly in retail, it is importantly to keep your finger on the pulse of what’s trending with consumers.  Regulatory enforcement is no different – it can also be subject to pop culture trends and social media fervor.  And this makes sense, as sales increase for a “trending” product, the likelihood of discovering a product defect or common consumer misuse also increases.  Regulators focus on popular products when monitoring the marketplace for safety issues.

As product safety lawyers, we follow the products that are likely targets for regulatory attention.  Through Recalls in Review, we share our observations with you.