We are heading towards a world where everything is connected, not only online, but also in the physical world of wireless and wearable devices linking cars, with offices, with watches, ovens and street lights.
When we add to that the tracking of activities from our smart homes by way of automated thermostats, light fixtures, smart TVs, smart meters and the smart grid, it will lead to the portrayal of the “quantified self” complete with the personal details of lifestyle, habits and activities all tracked and recorded. A person’s entire lifestyle, containing a detailed set of activities and preferences, would potentially be accessible for all to see and, through the power of “machine learning”, to analyze and make predictions about one’s future behaviour.
The Internet of Things (IoT) could enable devices not only to connect but also to cooperate with each other, with big data analytics enabling intelligent decision-making. We Explore this from a smart building perspective in our recent report; Big Data for Smart Buildings.
From the convenience of smart buildings to the emergence of in-home healthcare monitoring, the potential of IoT for meaningful innovation is tremendous. But in a world with billions of connected devices, privacy and data security becomes of paramount importance.
Collaboration and data sharing will be vital in ensuring that the IoT develops in a way that can deliver real benefits in areas such as smart cities, but this will also create major new privacy and data-sharing concerns.
This was the consensus among several high-profile speakers from across industry, government and academia, who discussed the rise of the IoT at the HyperCat Summit in London this week.
On one side of the topic, BT chief researcher John Davies suggested, “we need to avoid silos and move towards an open ecosystem. This will ensure we can realise the maximum value from data on the IoT by making it open to as many people as possible”. However, while there was agreement that the IoT needs an open nature to thrive so that the right data is available to those who need it to develop systems and apps, this will create difficult questions about data ownership and privacy.
If someone agrees to share data with one provider that is then passed to another firm or organisation, a clear set of principles will be required that give the public confidence in handing over more data. Stephen Pattison, vice president of public affairs at ARM, said that the industry must recognise this and focus on it now, or numerous IoT and smart city benefits will not be realised, as the data required will not be shared.
“Let’s start a conversation about how we can simplify terms and conditions. No-one reads them, no-one knows what they’re saying, but we need to give people more transparency and control about how they share their data. This is not just going to benefit them, their communities or businesses, but society as a whole”, claimed Pattison.
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He advocated that the debate move from “data collection to data use”, so that people are given more insight into how any data they share will be used, and for what purpose.
In the same way that the financial crisis created a more financially astute public, data security breaches, privacy stories and scandals are making people more aware of their data privacy rights, and more concerned about how companies and governments use their data.
Data breaches affect all organisations. Earlier this year, in the UK, supermarket chain Morrisons informed the police of the theft of payroll data by a staff member. In the US, retailer Target endured significant public criticism following a hack affecting 70 million records, and a dip in its share price. Data breaches are more widespread than many realise. Indeed, many organisations may have been hacked without realising.
Within the smart building movement, increasing automation of buildings enables rich information streams about the activities of building users to reach networked computer systems. Privacy concerns typically cause this information to be accessible only by building managers and security personnel.
However, if appropriate building mechanisms can be implemented, then it should be possible to deploy location information systems that can contribute to the convenience and efficiency of users, utilising the Building Internet of Things – as discussed comprehensively in our recent report; The Transformation of BAS into the Building Internet of Things 2015 to 2020.
Perhaps underlining the discussion, Simon Anholt, an independent policy advisor, said that those at the front line of IoT development must consider the consequences of their actions, as bringing life to inanimate objects is almost like assuming the mantle of a 'god'.
“We can be pardoned, perhaps, with confusing ourselves with a god if we’re able to [give life to objects], but when standing on the brink of god-like endeavours we have to assume the responsibility of gods and consider the consequences of our actions”, Anholt said.