You need look no further than some of the stupid IoT devices being shown off at CES 2017 to be reminded that practically anything can be connected to the internet.
Nokia’s Withings, L’Oreal’s innovation lab and Kerastase believe you would be better off by using Hair Coach, the world’s first smart hairbrush and companion app. It is just one of the many products that leaves me asking WHY?
Screenshot from L’Oreal video
Do people really need a hairbrush that comes fitted with a microphone to “listen” to how hair is being brushed, a gyroscope to analyze “brushing force and speed,” an accelerometer to “counts strokes” and has haptic feedback meaning the “vibrating handle guides brushing technique.” I don’t think so; nevertheless, it was a recipient of the International CES Innovation Award.
For some people, IoT is already in their clothing and other wearables, in their homes and even in medical devices implanted in their bodies. When it comes to IoT, Mozilla says we need to look beyond what is possible and ask, “What’s responsible?”
Mozilla pointed out several ways that “IoT can work for the public good,” before examining the flipside; “IoT can erode privacy: Legions of connected microphones and cameras unknowingly track our movements and conversations. Governments surveil citizens en masse, and profit-minded businesses horde personal data. IoT also means more vulnerabilities, from the recent Dyn attack to the hacking of elections.”
The Mozilla Foundation is just one of the founding partners of NetGain which is currently focused “on understanding the public interest issues that arise with IoT and what philanthropy can do about it.” Last year, the coalition of nonprofits published a paper titled, “We All Live in the Computer Now.”
The paper is divided into five opportunities and five challenges. The opportunities include: “savings and efficiency, improving public services, enabling citizens with data, democratizing product development and growing the movement for ‘open’.” The challenges include: “erosion of privacy, surveillance on a global scale, inequity and reinforced social divides, threats to safety and security and centralization and monopolies.”
Regarding the constant chipping away of privacy, the paper states, “In the context of monitoring and privacy, our world is far more invasive than even Orwell ever imagined. We have TVs that listen and send our every work back to the cloud to predict what we’ll do next. We also have many – often dozens – of cameras, microphones and sensors planted around in our houses, on our bodies, in our transport, in our school and in our offices.”
IoT intensifies issues of personal privacy. That is because the data collected is not just about our online activity, but where we move, and what we touch, see and do in our physical environment. And it is being correlated to even larger datasets.
From there, the paper gives examples of customers being tracked in stores via Wi-Fi, beacons and even mannequins.
As for global surveillance, the paper touches on the time when CIA director David Patraeus indicated the CIA couldn’t wait to spy on people via their smart appliances and when US Director of National Intelligence James Clapper last year testified (pdf), “In the future, intelligence services might use the IoT for identification, surveillance, monitoring, location tracking, and targeting for recruitment, or to gain access to networks or user credentials.”
Remotely killing a Jeep while it was being driven and the Dyn attack fell under the heading of threats to safety and security.
The NetGain Partnership, which follows six guiding principles for better IoT, believes now is the time to “head off future danger proactively.” It is seeking more “technologists, activists and entrepreneurs for the movement” while also “planning research, grantmaking and salons to further chart the future.” The group hopes to build a better internet.
Not everything coming out of CES 2017 seems ridiculous – even if some of the Innovation Awards honorees suggest otherwise – but it is clear that the market is still tilted toward what is possible – combining silly yet “smart” objects with an app – instead of focusing on what is responsible. As Mozilla noted, “IoT will be the first big battle of 2017.”