Last week Intel, the chip manufacturer, predicted that by 2015 there will be more than 15 billion internet-connected devices and one third of these connected devices will be intelligent systems.
The CIA are already getting excited, with Director David Petraeus talking about the”transformational” effect on “clandestine tradecraft.” The proposed draft Communications Data Bill is so broadly drafted it’s been warned that a system to control your central heating could be covered by the legislation.
We’re already seeing the first tentacles of this phenomenon moving into British homes, in the guise of smart meters. We’ve previously highlighted the serious privacy issues these devices raise, while others are warning that the project is set to be a multi-billion pound IT catastrophe. The Kernel recently warned the scheme was a ‘deadly home energy legacy‘ left by Ed Miliband.
In the coming years everything from lightbulbs to watches, clothes and fridge will be shipped internet-ready, communicating with you and your control devices in real time. They’ll be the very fabric of our homes and our society, but are we missing sight of the risks this poses?
The question of who’s looking at the data, and what is happening to it, is set to become a defining question for the internet of things. The eutopian promise of easy living, lower bills and everything being a smartphone app away from you control is one that’s premised on the user being in control of their data. However, from the early steps of smartphones and apps, we’ve already seen a wholesale outsourcing of privacy to vendors, with a generation of young people growing up with no concept of the value of their data. Equally, the lack of awareness about how data is used and retained long into the future is a concern that we will be working to address in the coming months.
Whether it’s the way Google combines keywords in your email with data on what YouTube videos you watch, or how insurers are now finding ways to access your supermarket loyalty card information, this is just the tip of the iceberg. With information about when you watch TV or run a bath, how often you boil the kettle and what time you turn the lights out becoming available, our lives will be detailed in fine granularity and who has access to that data is far from clear.
Moreso, the degree of control we surrender to these devices, from minor issues of turning the lights off when you forget to to broader ones of remote-controlled access to operation of an entire household’s devices could be the foundation for significant national security concerns.
It’s urgently becoming clear that the business case and privacy regulation for smart meters needs reviewing, and a proper framework put in place to ensure privacy is protected in the age of the internet of things.