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Qualcomm walks fine line between privacy, connected devices

CEO Paul Jacobs says privacy will be an issue for the "Internet of Things," but Qualcomm is working with companies to make some of the technology less intrusive.

Qualcomm CEO Paul Jacobs speaks Tuesday at the Wired Business Conference in New York. Dan Farber/CNET

NEW YORK--Qualcomm is walking a fine line between enabling the "Internet of Things" and protecting users' privacy, the chipmaker's chief executive said Tuesday.

Paul Jacobs, speaking at the Wired Business Conference in New York, said that nearly everything people interact with will be connected to the Internet in the future, but that also means companies have to figure out a way to make such technology less intrusive.

For example, department stores or restaurants can detect when someone is walking by and send them coupons, but not all people may want to receive those offers. So Qualcomm and other companies are working to make sure people receive the offers only if they're in a loyalty club or opt in for the information, or they can collect the offer anonymously so the store doesn't have all of the individual's personal information.

And Qualcomm technology, such as its Alljoyn open-source software for managing devices, includes authentication systems that can detect who a person is. For example, when someone gets into a car, the system would know exactly who that person is and what his settings are. It could also detect if the person has someone with him and adjust the settings accordingly.

"Privacy is something that's going to be a little bit like a cat-and-mouse game," Jacobs said.

The concept of the "Internet of Things," or "Internet of Everything" as Qualcomm likes to call it, is nothing new. But such promise -- that everything will contain a sensor that connects to the Internet and other devices -- is starting to come true. That's largely because smartphones can act as the control hub for other products. The market already is seeing a boom in wearable devices, such as Google Glass and the Nike FuelBand, and that's likely to increase in the future.

Meanwhile, another wearable technology from Qualcomm that's geared at pets isn't doing as well as hoped, Jacobs said. The company's Tagg pet tracker, which attaches to a pet's collar, monitors the physical activity of one's dog and uses GPS to locate a missing pet.

"People don't lose their dogs often enough to care about recharging and paying a service fee," Jacobs said. He noted that Qualcomm still sells the product as there are some people who are "fanatical" about their pets, but most people want something they just put on the dog and forget until they need it.

Jacobs also said Qualcomm is doing a lot of work on wireless charging and new screen technologies to help people deal with the battery life issue for devices.