Whether it’s a smart refrigerator, car, or an entire smart home, the Internet of Things (IoT) is no longer just a topic of science fiction stories. Different devices are connected with each other, and make our lives more convenient. While they are at it they collect and save incredible amounts of data. The Internet of Things (IoT) has become part of our everyday lives, sometimes without us noticing.
Technology is developing faster than we can keep up. One day you are excited about your new connected dishwasher which starts automatically, in order to conserve energy, once your laundry is finished. The next day there is a new model that can also open its door on its own.
The huge amounts of data which are collected by our “things” every day are economically interesting for different companies. To most of us this is nothing new, however, we are often surprised when we look at specific examples.
In order to deliver a report about my energy usage at the end of every trip, my car collects data about my driving performance. My location is tracked as well, so I always know where I am, when I look at the display in the center of my dashboard. This data reveals a lot about me, it shows if I drive safely and stick to all the traffic rules, but also, where I shop and how often I stop at a fast food restaurant instead of cooking a healthy meal. My insurance company is highly interested in this information. By evaluating how risky or safely I drive and how healthy I eat, they can determine the price for my insurance or even if they should even take me as a customer at all.
We don’t just give our data out for free. As an exchange for our privacy we get applications and gadgets which make our lives more convenient. But what is the price? Selling our privacy? We hand over our data to companies that can make money off our style of driving, or use our occasional visit at McDonalds as a reason not to ensure us.
One can get the impression that all the concerns about data security are limitations to technical advancement. But many of the possible usages of the data are important to society. In the healthcare sector, the data can help with better insights into certain diseases. Some wearables can measure the blood sugar of a person with diabetes. And even the trackers in my car could come in handy, if my car gets stolen. Because of all these reasons, it is important to find a balance between safe usage of the data and technological advancement. The question is: How?
The difficulties already start when determining to whom the data belongs. Does the data of my car belong to me or the manufacturer? And if it was leased, does the data belong to the bank? Generally there is the right to informational self-determination. However, in the world of IoT it will become difficult to act upon this right the way we used to.
There are three steps to the process of data usage: 1. A device creates the data by measuring something. 2. A centralized system evaluates the data. 3. The data is saved for future use.
Everything we reveal about ourselves on the internet will stay there. Companies can use the data for their purposes, but also unauthorized usage cannot always be prevented.
Being connected to the internet also brings the danger of being hacked. What seems harmless in the case of a smart fridge (who cares about my milk consumption?) can be extremely dangerous in the case of a smart car. It will be up to IT security experts to find solutions for problems like this.
In the long run, it will not be sufficient to solve these problems after they arise. It will become necessary to implement concepts for data security and develop methods for the conservation of privacy. Extensive software tests will be needed to provide safety for users. On top of that, continuous updates will be required to maintain safety while new developments arise. At the end, there has to be a balance between protection of privacy and data usage.
The age of IoT will raise more questions, weather it is about the legal situation, or the impact on our daily lives. But if we address these problems correctly, we will be able to use smart devices with all the advantages they bring to our lives.