More than 30 firms including Intel, BT and Vodafone recently announced they would band together to create an industry body to vet internet connected devices for security flaws. You would be forgiven for missing this news, on paper it’s not terribly exciting. However, it has important implications for the Internet of Things (IoT) and will impact consumers and businesses.
The IoT is still in its infancy. It is missing the killer device that will spur widespread adoption and kick it into the consumer mainstream. While we wait for ‘the iPhone of smart devices’, there is a great opportunity to standardise how the IoT works.
Standardisation is crucial because of just how many devices the IoT could be made up of. With the potential for any object to be made ‘smart’ there could be an unprecedented number of collectors and transmitters of personal data. The fact that these devices need to talk to each other also means that data could be shared and used by a huge number of different companies.
Thankfully, some of the companies that are set to play a major role in the IoT have recognised this opportunity and decided to act. By seeking to create a minimum standard for security on IoT devices, this industry body will help to safeguard people’s data and create a level playing field for technology companies.
However, seeking to identify and weed out devices with inferior safety provisions is only one piece of the puzzle. Although it should help to defend against hackers, it won’t address the looming problem of how companies will collect, use and inform consumers about their personal data. For the IoT to gain widespread appeal and have longevity, users need to be able to trust smart devices and the companies that make them. Without minimum ethical standards or codes of conduct to govern the IoT there is a real risk that personal data will be misused. If this happens it will cause a consumer backlash that will threaten the whole industry, or provoke government regulation that could hamper innovation.
A minimum ethical standard for the use of data should not be a difficult document to create. Many of the companies involved in the industry body will already have their own standards in relation to how they use data on other devices. Harmonising these rules should be a no-brainer.
Consumers need to know what data is being collected on them and how it is used. Therefore, alongside security, transparency needs to be the foundation of the IoT. After all, it is everyone’s interest that the companies involved in the IoT act responsibly with personal data.
Standardisation can also extend beyond security provisions. The format and network these devices use should also be homogenised where possible. Consider the recent history of new technological devices. There have been reoccurring format wars, such as Betamax and VHS, Minidisk and MP3, and in the past few years, HD DVD and Blu-ray. As with most wars there were losers, casualties and a lot of money wasted. On one hand, there were the manufacturers and suppliers that threw their lot in on the wrong side. For some that was the end of the road, for others it precipitated a painful pivot.
Those who won had to incur plenty of needless costs in marketing and lobbying distributors. On the other hand, there was the annoyed consumer who forked out a lot of cash on devices and their favourite songs or movies in the right format only to find out they had to spend it all over again.
Cooperation between the businesses that operate in the IoT will help the sector develop faster, save money, support innovation and protect consumers. The formation of a group to address security is a welcome first step. However, we need to realise the ‘Internet of Things’ is really the ‘Internet of People’ and respecting the privacy of individuals is essential.
(image credit: Ervins Strauhmanis, CC2.0)