June 2019

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You don't know what you don't know

- Does IoT serve us or take from us?
Sabrina Venish

Sabrina Venish
Marketing Manager
Nube iO

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Admittedly, a little over a year ago, I barely knew what IoT meant. As I started working at Nube iO, a smart building tech startup, I began to learn more about this buzzword and the opportunities it has created for the building automation industry. However, among the benefits, a growing awareness of this powerful, virtual world made me question the consequences for society it claims to serve.

With a background in marketing, I am well aware of existing privacy concerns among internet users, which are warranted given unauthorised breaches of hundreds of millions of users' data in 2018 alone. Cookies, virtual profiles, data mining and data brokering are just some of the legal activities that have developed over the last two decades that give companies the ability to access AND SHARE sensitive, personal data. This isn’t black market stuff either; legitimate personal data exchanges now retails at $200 billion annually.

As we enter the fourth industrial revolution, we must consider the repercussions of connecting everything from fridges, watches, pillows, transport and buildings. Where does this data go? Who can use it? What does this mean for you if corporate giants know your every move, interest and intention?

In reality, many consumers are not aware of what they don’t know about data privacy and how IoT will exacerbate this issue.

What is IoT?

IoT stands for the ‘internet of things,’ which represents physical and virtual networks of masses of objects and devices that freely collect and exchange data. The introduction of IoT enabled the introduction of wireless, internet connected sensors, connected assets and by extension, connected buildings and cities. IoT has also helped revolutionise technology in other industries such as healthcare, agriculture and transport. Everyday consumers use IoT as well, through wearables, social networks and personal devices.

IoT & personal data

IoT has been marketed through the media as a revolutionary digital transformation and a key contributor to the fourth industrial revolution (or Industry 4.0) that will serve consumers and businesses with data-driven insights. Whilst this may be true for the development of many technologies, research shows Industry 4.0 WILL expose the most personal data of all time. Is this trade-off fair?

Have a think. Smartwatches track your heart rate, exercise patterns, sleep and other health data. Your phone most likely holds all personal conversations, photos, keychain saved passwords, access to banking information and your location. Instagram and Facebook collect interests, engagement patterns, lifestyle factors and also have access to your camera and microphone. Websites use cookies to track your online activity. Google and apps keep data on your search history, travel preferences, shopping history, other apps you use and YouTube history to generate an advertisement profile of you. Now that microelectronic sensors are cheap and can be integrated into everyday objects, we are looking at smart fridges, smart pillows, smart toasters, smart everything.

Research shows users underestimate the authorisation given to 3rd parties to access their data. What’s scary is the prevalence of data selling and unauthorised data breaches, which I touched on earlier. The most recent data dispute in the media this week detailed the class action lawsuit against Apple for selling 18 million iTunes customers’ listening data, including full names, home addresses, genres purchased and more.

Why? Data is valuable. It’s no wonder this movement has even been dubbed ‘total tech,’ short for totalitarian technology, after reports of predictive policing in the US and even more extreme behaviour monitoring in China.

Key effects IoT will have on privacy

Marketing: I’ve mentioned data selling is a $200 billion industry. So what will happen to if companies cannot sell data? Its likely consumers will have to absorb the cost through subscription-based revenue models, or this lost revenue will be filled with more advertising. Once upon a time, I would never have given up my social networks or accepted paying for them. But the truth is we already do pay, just in ways, we’re not aware of.

Surveillance: Connecting everything means growth in the online world and decline in the offline world. With this comes the diminishing of private spaces. This makes it easier to find and track people. Middelton (2018) explains this creates ‘glass houses’ where smart producers can essentially see everything, and consumers continue to invite this technology in. This creates a surveillance culture that many have accepted.

Cybersecurity threats: Greater numbers of IoT devices opens more opportunities for hackers and privacy breaches. Read about the major security breaches of 2018 here.

Changes necessary for the future of digital privacy

Greater transparency on how data is used: This research shows that many consumers are unaware of how their data is used and shared, despite signing terms and conditions. Companies being transparent with how they handle private data will help to restore trust in big brands.

Shorter terms and conditions: Who here can say they’ve read the T&Cs for every app, device and service they have purchased? The harsh reality is that through these terms, we give companies permission to collect, use and share our personal data. But do we really have a choice? If you say no to these terms, you don’t get the service. Intentionally long, boring, complicated T&Cs in the capitalised text needs to stop. Read more about the psychology of terms and conditions here, or watch the netflix film “Terms and Conditions May Apply.”

Tighter laws: considering the rate at which technology is developing, it’s almost impossible for legal institutions to stay in front. Moreover, changing laws is a lengthy process. Greater industry awareness and regulation is essential to ensure the changes IoT brings enhance human quality of life, not detract from it. Over the last two years in Australia, consumers have demanded change in financial, construction and aged care industries due to malpractice. These are all services we need and use, but over time, change is essential to protect the rights of the consumer. The same is required for IoT, a revolution that will, in some capacity, affect everyone.

Implications for IoT developers and solutions

I’m not a developer, so I won’t speak extensively on this. But, this group plays a large role in the direction IoT moves in coming years. Policies must be implemented and supported to guide developers and companies involved in the IoT space. The GDPR is already active in providing reference frameworks in Europe, let’s encourage more of this across other continents.

What can you do?

If reading all this makes you want to go off the grid, you’re not alone. So what can you do about it? Make some noise! These companies were built to serve consumers, not take from them. Right?

Start with assessing your own IoT network - decide what you really need and review your privacy settings. Raise awareness by writing a blog or post on social media. Talk to your friends, family and colleagues about this issue.

Companies and employees at IoT institutions must also be involved. If this is you, encourage ethical IoT developments and data use practices in your workplace.

Challenge MNEs on twitter to explain their practices and what they’re doing to protect you, their customers. Write to your local member, influencer or newspaper and voice your concerns. Like any global issue, if everyone did just a little, the problem would look very different.

About the Author

Sabrina is the Marketing Manager for Nube iO, a smart building automation company that has developed the first end-to-end & low-cost solution for large portfolios of small buildings. The solution enables facility managers to remotely monitor and control assets, reduce building costs and improve comfort conditions.


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