Digital thermostats, pet monitoring cameras, autonomous vacuum cleaners, intelligent refrigerators – when leaving our homes, as we do every day, we’re now leaving them in the hands of our devices. The Internet of Things (IoT) is helping to pioneer a truly connected era of technology however it’s clear that the driving force behind its growth isn’t innovation, it’s data.
The world will soon have billions of connected devices. From barcode scanning bins to UV monitoring beachwear to wirelessly tracked livestock, there aren’t many items now that do not connect to the internet. As those billions turn into tens of billions, the volume of data that can be harvested, used and profited from will grow.
Consumers don’t often know the conditions in which their data can be used once they tick the Ts and Cs. A recent study by data regulators looked at devices and how much their communication privacy polices matter to consumers:
- 59% failed to sufficiently explain how information was gathered, used and disclosed
- 72% failed to explain how consumers could remove or delete their information from their devices
- 38% failed to provide contact details that consumers could identify to raise concerns regarding their privacy
Many devices are equipped with cameras, sensors and microphones, all managed by intelligent software. Positioned around our homes, these devices can create an accurate model of our domestic environments – data that can be very valuable in the development of new products, new technologies and new devices. The original product-based business model that our economy has thrived on for hundreds of years is no longer 100% effective. By connecting devices to the internet, these products become a gateway to a service-based business model, where an ongoing service brings with it an ongoing cost.
Do voice activated microphones only gather data when spoken to? Do domestic cameras only record when programmed to? These are questions that are now coming to the attention of consumer advocacy groups and governing bodies such as the European Union who have recently introduced new data protection laws.
The opportunities for improvement shouldn’t be dismissed. Data can be used to refine products, making them better, smarter and more effective. For example, when an autonomous vacuum scans a room, it could gather important data on lighting, temperature, acoustics and air quality which could help improve smart lights, thermostats, wireless speakers and air filters. The scope for data now far exceeds the device itself.
The use of data raises concerns regarding privacy. The need for privacy structures how we innovate. Innovating creates new ways for us to gather data. This cycle shapes our technological growth but should we hinder progress for the sake of privacy? Should we be more open to the opportunities that data can provide? Do we need to be more transparent when we innovate? Data is the driving force but when the benefits can cross consumer lines, we need to have trust in our devices whilst paving the way forward for change.