When it comes to the Internet of Things we think about “smart” objects, thermostats, smoke alarms and other appliances that help us improve energy efficiency and lower utility costs, or home hubs that help simplify our lives, like light switches, or burglar alarms controlled through our smartphone.
But a “smart” for sale sign is the kind of stuff that really baffles the mind. Imagine a scenario where a prospective buyer passes a house for sale and receives a message on his/her smartphone with instant details about the house, like floor plans, renovation opportunities, and even previous owner testimonials.
And yes, this already exists thanks to Apple’s iBeacon technology and “For Sale” signs.[i]
So does a data-driven decision making house. A data sensor equipped home can list itself on the right real-estate listings and schedule showings because it will “know” when the owners will be out of the house.[ii] Real estate companies can use sensors in their properties to monitor a variety of risk-related incidents, including the presence of dangerous gas, termite infestations, HVAC/ boiler malfunction, and general wear and tear. Even when a particular structure seems to be in top condition, analysts can pore over the massive amount of data captured by these embedded sensors to identify clues to future problems.[iii]
Hyper connected consumers cannot get enough of the Internet of Things. And why should they? Who doesn’t want to simplify their lives with technology which is aimed at supporting and removing the tasks that can be more efficiently and effectively accomplished by machines?
The term “Internet of Things” (IoT) refers to everyday objects embedded with sensors, software and network connectivity. Every object, even the human body, can become a part of IoT if equipped with certain electronic “parts”. Those parts certainly vary depending on the function the object is to perform. The sensors capture data, the software translates that data into information that is transmitted to someplace else, like cloud based apps through the Internet.
But the IoT is not new and in just a decade, thanks to the explosive growth in mobile devices and applications and the broad availability of wireless connectivity, the amount of information available and communicated is stunning. We have become an interconnected hyper wired society. Our PCs are linked to our laptops, which are transmitting to our smartphones, which are communicating with our tablets, which are networking with our TVs, which are interconnected to multiple networks, over base stations and cloud computing over the air. It doesn’t end there, the sheer number of connected things is growing exponentially. CISCO estimates that 50 billion data devices will be connected by 2020.[iv]
With the IoT, anything from your house to your car to your shoes could be connected and disclosing and sharing information and data about you. Which begs the question, who actually has control of our information? And what are the risks involved with the IoT? When there are multiple interconnected systems, data centers, and different cloud computing devices collecting data, the lines get blurred on who is responsible for what data and who is responsible when there is a security breach? Any device with an Internet connection is a potential gateway for a hacker. With the office network, connected to the home network, anything like a nanny cam without a password can be compromised.
Another risk inherent in any system that is connected to the Internet is privacy. It is one thing to agree with a “smart” washing machine which could measure how many pods are used over a given period and communicate with your grocery store to add a new detergent to your grocery list when running low, but quite another when your insurance company is provided with information about your eating and drinking habits or the medication you are taking without your consent.
Liability or litigation is another concern. A company hosting information from a house alarm system connected to the Internet and accessed through a mobile application could be requested by a judge to submit specific information which could prove a person was home on a specific day. What about driverless cars which are equipped with advanced safety sensors? Would an injured pedestrian have a case against the car manufacturer in the following scenario? A passenger is unhurt thanks to the car’s advanced safety system which forced it to swerve to avoid danger, but collides into a pedestrian.
Ready or not, the IoT is moving so fast and these questions become difficult to answer. That is why it is important to be aware that there is information and data about you that may be accessed, especially if something goes wrong. We all know the phrase in real estate: “location, location, location” as being the key element when buying a property. In the IoT, the phrase should be: “read, read and re-read” - user agreements, consent clauses, privacy policies, and terms and conditions. It is especially important to understand what you are reading. In a world where the benefits of the IoT outweigh the risks, it is important to read, read, re-read and understand what you are getting into before jumping on the newest and latest thing.
[i] iBeacon is a trademark of Apple Inc., registered in the U.S. and other countries.
[ii] Risk Management Feature - Embracing IoT, sector by sector, Source: Middle East Insurance Review, Nov. 2015 Categories: http://www.meinsurancereview.com/Magazine/ReadMagazineArticle?aid=37052