If you listen to the radio, watch TV or read a newspaper, you have likely heard the term Internet of Things (IoT). As a matter of fact, you’ve probably heard it over and over and over in the past few months. I’ve heard the term floating around for a few years but it was really amped up during this past holiday season so I thought I’d check into what I’m being pushed into now. I figured that, whatever it is, they are wanting us to buy into it in a big way.
IoT, as a concept and a term, was first put forth in 2009 by one Kevin Ashton of MIT. Mr. Ashton is the fellow who co-founded the Auto-ID Center, which created a global standard system for RFID and other sensors. The original idea was to tag every person and thing with RFID chips so they could be inventoried and managed by computers. If this makes you uncomfortable, then you are probably a real human being rather than a cyborg or a robot.
The sharing of Big Data (another concept being pushed on unsuspecting citizens) has made the Auto-ID Center’s job much easier by allowing the collection of data from additional tagging techniques. Near Field Communication (NFC), for example, is another set of standards based on the same RFID standards the Auto-ID Center created. These standards allow smartphones and other devices to communicate via low power radio signals. So smartphones can (and do) talk to one another and they talk with other devices equipped with NFC chips. In addition, data from QR codes, bar codes, and digital watermarking can be collected and analyzed to determine usage, etc.
So the question is, do we want all of our “things” talking to great computers in the cloud. Even if we skip over the privacy concerns, which are many, security is a major issue. I’m a big proponent of cloud computing, but one of the main uses of IoT is data sharing. There will be lots of room for mischief in this kind of a world. We can all see the benefits, of course. Learning systems that only consume energy at the exact times needed and reporting to the power grid so it too can learn the true demand could lead to less overall pollution of our planet. Law enforcement officers being able to recognize that my smartphone was within six feet of your smartwatch at X time on X date means that we were in fact together. Couple that with the information that my smartphone spoke to a bank’s water cooler three minutes later and we might have been the bank robbers two minutes after that.
Bad things can, and routinely do, happen when personal data is collected and stored in large databases. This is one of the major concerns of the data being collected by the NSA today. Regardless of how, or even if, the NSA is using the data, the data does exist in one convenient place waiting to be utilized by whomever that mole inside the NSA eventually sells it to. Or, perhaps it’ll be a particularly adept hacker who finds a way in and gets his/her hands on some of that very interesting data on who Bill Gates e-mailed when about what. Well, these same concerns now exist about lower-level gadgets that could be exploited. What if a teenage hacker wanted to have some fun turning off refrigerators in Seattle and Tampa simultaneously? What if a burglar could access information on your routines based on collected statistics from your smartphone? One must also remember that we are in a digital age. Many believe that it’s cool for the NSA to collect private data because they aren’t doing anything wrong. Changing a couple of 1s here and a couple of 0s there and an overzealous cop trying to make a case can put you just about anywhere he wants at any given time. If the argument is that the NSA isn’t using the data for that, recall that they also weren’t collecting the data at all until someone proved that they were. Also keep in mind that when the data exists, it’s a very short step for laws to change that would allow the use of said data by local law enforcement or other parties.
The privacy issues are generally well known and, unfortunately they’re inescapable at this point. Even if we choose not to participate in the digital age (good luck with that), how can we prevent our appliances from doing the same? Despite the supposed environmental and economic benefits of this technology, there is little doubt that marketing opportunities are what is driving this ship. Minority Report style direct marketing is where the multi-national corporate types want to be so that’s where we’ll all be in short order. No matter how awkward most wearable technology is today or how slowly it creeps into the mainstream, it will continue to be invested in and improved upon because it’s a necessary part of the IoT. If this sounds like the stuff of conspiracy theory, consider where Apple is headed regarding Touch ID and mobile purchases. If they succeed in bringing Touch ID purchases out of the Apple Store and into the physical world, and they will, we’ll see a whole new definition of impulse buying. We’ll also see a whole new advertising stream as Bluetooth low energy tagged 65-inch TVs can give your smartphone a shout-out as you pass by the electronics store because the manufacturer and/or the distributor and/or the retailer knows you bought a 45-inch TV last year that you are probably tired of by now. You’ll be left to wonder, does it know that I want the 65-inch TV because I bought one last year or is it because it knows that I’ve been spending more time watching my neighbor’s 65-inch TV than watching my own TV?