The Internet of Things presents the internet-connected world with boundless possibility, but it also presents risks that we haven’t even considered yet. A recent Guardian article included the quote: “The scariest thing is that we don’t know what the scariest thing is”.
In the hour-long discussion at NetHui this month, we saw the conversation switch from the wonders of sensor-enabled pill bottles that provided reminders to the memory-impaired to what the consequences of a DDoS attack on a sensor-enabled pill bottle might look like.
Most of the discussion was devoted to privacy. We’re living in a world that has a growing number of sensors. We’re learning new ways to deal with the quantification and enumeration of our lives every day. We’re relying on third party technology to gather the information and present it to us; are we relying too much on third party companies to keep it safe?
The discussion demonstrated a wariness of the data bargains we’re striking with some of the major companies. I’ll buy the device off you, you collect and present the data it generates for me - but you get to keep it all on your servers.
These are issues being discussed at the top tables for privacy too – in April the International Working Group on Data Protection in Telecommunications (Also known as the IWGDPT, or if you’d rather not learn another acronym “The Berlin Group”) put together a working paper on Wearable Computing Devices that covers many of the same issues.
But it wasn’t all problems with no solutions. There’s a bright future for the Internet of Things, but to get there we’ll have to exercise control - and some restraint.
Attendees identified that many of the major risks could be mitigated through open design standards and frameworks, essentially baking privacy and user control into the design specifications. Supporting this by teaching our young people about privacy and ethical development will help fill the gaps too.
The Berlin Group also recognises the changing space, and they recommend we look for creative solutions that are just as dynamic as the environment they’ll be operating in. Their other recommendations revolve strongly around transparency and control.
If we’re going to live surrounded by sensors, we really need to get our heads around how they work. The Privacy Act isn’t going anywhere - personal information is still personal information. Our technology strategy “Making the Future” aims to put the Office in the right place to help business work through these issues and make sensible technology decisions.
There’ll be a lot more of that personal information flying around in the future, but if we do things right, we’ll have more control too.