Collaboration and data sharing will be vital in ensuring that the Internet of Things (IoT) develops in a way that can deliver real benefits in areas such as smart cities, but this will also create major new privacy and data-sharing concerns.
This was the consensus among several high-profile speakers from across industry, government and academia who discussed the rise of the IoT at the HyperCat Summit in London.
Kicking off proceedings, Simon Anholt, an independent policy advisor who has worked with governments around the world, explained that, while businesses and governments have been focused on out-competing each other, the focus has to shift to be more inclusive for the IoT era to benefit all humanity.
“We need more collaboration, more coordination and less competition. Competition is good but when it drives everything it is fatal. We have to move the collaboration slider up a little bit and the competition slider down a little bit,” he said.
“If we get it right we will progress and prosper, and create an environment we can hand down to the next generation with some confidence.”
Lord Eroll, chairman of the HyperCat organisation and former member of the government’s Science and Technology Committee, agreed with this assessment, arguing that the IoT should not be developed in silos.
“If we have IP [intellectual property] out there it should not be owned by one organisation. The greatest benefits come from collaboration, from not trying to grab it for yourself but to get everyone involved,” he said.
BT chief researcher John Davies also made this point. “We need to avoid silos and move towards an open ecosystem. This will ensure we can realise the maximum value from data on the IoT by making it open to as many people as possible,” he said.
However, while there was agreement that the IoT needs an open nature to thrive so that the right data is available to those who need it to develop systems and apps, this will create difficult questions about data ownership and privacy.
For example, if a person agrees to share data with one provider that is then passed to another firm or organisation, a clear set of principles will be required that give the public confidence in handing over more data.
Stephen Pattison, vice president of public affairs at ARM, said that the industry must recognise this and focus on it now, or numerous IoT and smart city benefits will not be realised as the data required will not be shared.
“Let’s start a conversation about how we can simplify terms and conditions. No-one reads them, no-one knows what they’re saying, but we need to give people more transparency and control about how they share their data.
“This is not just going to benefit them, their communities or businesses, but society as a whole.”
He suggested that the debate needs to move on from ‘data collection’ to ‘data use’, so that people are given more insight into how any data they share will be used, and for what purpose.
Pattison added that services may evolve to include more granular options to consumers about the data they want to share and the benefits that different levels provide, perhaps reducing cost or offering more advanced capabilities.
Darren Thomson, Symantec CTO and vice president of technology services, explained that security must become a key "fabric" of IoT systems, given that they are going to require people to share so much personal information.
Perhaps underlining these tensions, Anholt said that those at the front line of IoT development must consider the consequences of their actions, as bringing life to inanimate objects is almost like assuming the mantle of a 'god'.
“We can be pardoned perhaps with confusing ourselves with a god if we’re able to [give life to objects], but when standing on the brink of god-like endeavours we have to assume the responsibility of gods and consider the consequences of our actions,” he said.
Such concerns are clearly going to create headaches for governments, consumers and businesses, but the IoT market will be worth an estimated $1.7tn within the next five years and it is clear that it is only going in one direction.
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