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The ‘Reach Out and Touch Everything’ Era

Aria Systems

13 August 2014

How big will the IoT be? According to readwrite, if you ask Cisco and Morgan Stanley it’s somewhere between “big” and “ginormous”.

Cisco says there will be 50 billion devices connected by the end of the decade. Morgan Stanley extrapolated a 50% higher estimate at 75 billion. To put it into perspective that’s 9.4 connected devices for every man, woman and child on this spinning little ball we call home. Morgan Stanley suggests that even that number could be low with up to 200 devices helping each of us stay better connected.

The IoT is big news because it borrows from the old Ma Bell campaign and significantly ups the ante: “Reach out and touch somebody” is becoming “reach out and touch everything.” And in that there’s some good news, some bad news. All those 75 billion devices are “…generating signals of data to be analyzed and measured, many of which in real- or near-real-time.” And while self–driving cars, automated security systems, hydration reminders, and course-correcting behavior alerts stand to increase amenity, wellness and safety, there is also a very real give-get transaction that’s taking place.

We are trading service for personal information that’s a quantum leap from what we are used to: the website tracking information that Facebook collects. With class-action suits filed against Facebook as recently as last week it’s clear that many aren’t on board with the present standard for handling personal information. With emerging IoT technologies collecting terabytes of personal data, the question is “are we ready to unbutton the equivalent of our online dress shirt while many are still loosening up their collars?”

While one could argue that privacy concerns vary as much as dress codes, which range from free-spirited California nudists to burqa-clad Afghani Muslims, the question remains how will anyone feel when the data that Facebook collects, analyzes and distributes to “improve your experience” explodes to a gazillion device manufacturers? It’s one thing to grant access your clicks, uploads and site visits but the IoT thrusts upon us another level of scrutiny: how long and how well you sleep, what you eat, where you drink, how alert you are, how warm you keep your house, when you close shop, when you power up, infinitum.

How comfortable can even the California nudist be when the opening of the kimono goes beyond skin deep to reveal their habits, moods and behaviors? Ready or not, it’s a question that we’ll soon be asking ourselves as we embrace the rise of the machines.

The IoT requires a level of acceptance that blows past social voyeurism and sharing. With the IoT, we go beyond accessing personally identifiable info to increasingly personal information on how we live our lives. Like the social era before it, how we feel about the IoT boils down to two things: how much we value the service versus how much we abhor living under a microscope, and how much we trust its myriad operators.

Recent news also suggests that this might be a ways off. To get there industry must confront security breaches that threaten bank accounts and erode customer confidence in what we’d expect to be the most technologically demanding companies – banking and online retailing. Still, the IoT manufacturers can learn much from the successes and mistakes from social and web services companies that have preceded them and have navigated these rocky waters.

Trust is bolstered by two simple and powerful notions: appropriate transparency and active permission. I, for one, am selectively on board if manufacturers and providers have told me in a way I can understand, exactly what they intend to do with the information they collect, and if I give them explicit permission to do this. Of course, they then must do what they say.

And while this may never get a nudist in a burqa, or vice versa, it might provide clothing that we can all be comfortable in.

Aria Systems