The internet has facilitated the communication revolution. How we connect with our friends, families and work colleagues has changed forever. With revolution comes evolution, a movement well underway thanks to the Internet of Things.
In 2020 it is reported that there will be 27 billion or more devices connected through the internet. These devices won’t just be connected through the Internet; they will interact with each other daily.
What Could the IoT Look Like in the Future?
Well, imagine if you ran out of your favourite juice; it could be ordered directly from your fridge. Think of going to your local gym where the machines and equipment know your workout as soon as you arrive, changing automatically to suit your level of fitness or your current health status.
The possibilities of IoT are even creeping into my own home. My husband keeps on talking about attaching a Tile (a tracking device) to our cat so we know her exact whereabouts. I still haven’t quite worked out if I’m interested in knowing the cat’s exact location (she’s probably getting fed at multiple houses on the street) but what I can tell you is the look on the cat’s face tells me it’s not happening any time soon.
It’s cliché to say but the possibilities (for humans and pets) really are endless.
Is it Hype or Reality?
The Internet of Things is scaling high on the hype-meter right now. Everybody seems to be talking about it, writing about it or in some cases already trying to build and use it.
An enthusiastic example is located on a 5 acre plot in Virginia, USA. It’s called the SmartThings House. More than 200 household appliances and objects, from the kitchen coffeemaker to the garage door to the kid’s trampoline, are all connected to the SmartThings system. These items no longer work solo; they work with one another. The home office can automatically text an adult if a child leaves home or ‘tell’ the home air-conditioning system to start powering up when the homeowners are on their way home.
Another example (again from the US) comes from HeatSync Labs, [http://bit.ly/1960M4p] a hackerspace that has built a connection between sending Bitcoins via your mobile device to make a tiny toy doll do a hula dance.
The point? I’m not sure, but it raises intriguing questions about who will adopt and use IoT devices. Will the IoT just become toys for the wealthy and the geeks? Or will they gain momentum as ubiquitous devices that they’re hyped up to be?
What Could This Mean for Identity?
So imagine we’re surrounded by tiny, intelligent devices that capture data about how we live and what we do. Arguably, this is something that we already experience but the Internet of Things takes it up a notch by giving objects the ability to interact with one another.
For example, collecting your health and fitness information through a health-related device like FitBit or Jawbone and then, if your fitness is improving, feeding it to the insurance company so you can lower your premiums.
On the one hand this is great. For people to use their IoT networked devices to give information about their identity could unlock products and services they previously couldn’t access.
However, we have seen some companies exploring the possibility of monitoring employees through wearable technology and this could mean a loss in both choice and privacy.
Security Will Be a Continued Concern
What is likely is that with a scale in connected devices, there will come a scale in viruses and hacking. Having not fixed that problem today, it’s evident that it’s going to be here in the future too. The argument is not whether system vulnerabilities can be eliminated, rather, it is how these security concerns will be addressed that will affect the uptake of these devices.
Is Identity the Key?
In my opinion there doesn’t need to be a loss of privacy in using IoT objects. However, there does need to be some delineation between the personal information held by the organisation (and therefore on the device) and the personal information that is core to an individual’s identity.
There are a few approaches to this problem but in order for it to be effective, the relationship between people and organisations has to change. It could be that the devices connect to a private network rather than the internet. Or for those devices connected to the public internet, encryption would be used to protect personal data.
As things like the IoT become more sophisticated, so too should our ability to control our own personal data, our identity and our privacy. Only when the person is central to the transaction and has full control of his identity data will the Internet of Things truly work.