Am I really concerned about my toaster telling the world how I like my toast done? Or how about my washing machine telling everyone that I washed my smalls on a low temperature and then tumble dried them? I may well be targeted by a washing powder manufacturer, but I can opt out of that, and frankly I don’t really care about that kind of use of an internet connected device.
Or should I?
Having every piece of technology you own and use report the metadata of your activities if not the actual data may not sound important, but it is. There are three prevailing attitudes we should be aware of in the Internet of Things argument:
Those who don’t care: For many people, and certainly those a generation younger than me, sharing personal data into the internet is no big deal. Witness the rise of Facebook, FourSqaure and Tumblr, where people share the minutiae of their personal lives with the rest of the internet connected world. This is a group of people who photograph their brand new credit card and share it on Twitter, or even tag themselves carrying out borderline illegal activities. Naive to our minds maybe, and yet they seem to be fully cognisant in their actions and accepting of the repercussions. This is a group of people with a very different set of expectations compared to those of us possible reading this article. What their houselights, heating system, phone and car report back to the internet is a part of who they are, and they are willing to share it.
Those who do care: This group may well be most of us reading this. We are hugely concerned with the recent PRISM revelations and the extent of the NSA/GCHQ surveillance operations on it’s own citizens as well as those of other countries. Simply the meta data alone from the devices of the Internet of Things would be enough to ascertain fairly complex pictures of our daily lives, from where we are at any given time, what we are doing, and who we are with. This is information we are used to being able to keep private, even potentially from our loved ones, and here it is accessible by anyone willing to invest some time and effort to find it out. We don’t like it!
Those who aren’t convinced: There are also those that still think the adoption of always on, always connected, always reporting devices are still in their nascent stages of adoption, and the doomsday scenario predicted by many is not only a long time off, but may not even happen. Why is this? Those who are most likely to adopt these technologies are still very much in the minority, and even then are most likely to recognise the concerns and adopt solutions that do not cross the line of privacy compared to those that do. This in itself means that only certain companies with a certain privacy focussed ethos are likely to survive. Secondly, the Internet of Things vendors are not about to open themselves up to law suits from disgruntled customers about the sharing of their information and meta data to third parties. They will secure this consumer information vehemently and use it to sell more products, build their business and hope to retain ‘stickiness’ to their brand. By selling this information they become less competitive, less trustworthy and more likely to go out of business.
There is of course no guarantee of anyone’s privacy at the moment, but it appears that the furore over the impact of the internet of things won’t be going away soon, whatever your opinion.
Thom Langford | Sapient | Director, Global Security Office |
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