Posted on Sunday, June 16 2013 at 5:50 pm by Jon Neiditz

Opportunities for Telecoms, Utilities and Big Consumer Tech Companies for “Privacy by Design” in the “Internet of Things” in the Home

A good post by Brian Proffitt on readwrite, “What’s Holding Up the Internet of Things,” explains why although so many things in our day-to-day lives are now talking over the internet, they are doing so only to centralized hubs and in their own languages that the other things do not and (given current incentives) will not speak. Particularly after the recent NSA disclosures, many privacy advocates and scholars are thankful that our household appliances are not collaborating effectively to tell the government exactly what we’re doing or failing to do at all times. I agree, but am looking beyond the current misalignment of incentives among developers of smart things that is the focus of Proffitt’s article, seeing it as just a bump in the road before the larger private entities who can benefit from local integration–e.g., the telecoms, utilities or big consumer tech companies who may serve as integrative platforms for smart homes and smart workplaces–enable that integration. The tech startups devoted to such integration are already marching forward.

Proffitt draws what may be a distinction useful (even if an oversimplification) to the large local integrators of the internet of things between “connected silos” and an “internet of islands.” The silos connecting from their central hubs not only could slow down local integration with congestion at those hubs, but could make the creation and protection of local zones of privacy–e.g., in the home–more difficult. When one thinks about the big data mapping now being done by organizations like Esri for the federal government and others, one hopes that zones of privacy or limited visibility can be established on analogy to the less complex limitations imposed by Google years ago on Street View in response to German concerns. Perhaps the large local integrators can take advantage of the momentary slowdown in the encroachment of the internet of things to try out some architectures that will make preservation of some privacy in the home feasible, just in case we end up wanting it and/or the law ends up continuing to demand it.

Call me a luddite, but when it comes to the internet of things in the home, I submit that the privacy frog has not yet been boiled, and it can still jump. The Japanese smart toilet has been around for many years now, but has never been adopted here. Smart energy use, convenience, safety and some other aspects of health, on the other hand, can clearly sell.  As we continue to watch the inability of government to engage in the necessary broader debate, the jumping frog of the consumer in this particular area of big data may create some opportunities for privacy by design.


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