'Internet of things' creates data dilemmas
Can you imagine having to sign in to use your toaster? It’s not such a ridiculous idea, and in the future, internet-connected appliances will present serious questions about how brands provide technology to consumers.
In the so-called ‘internet of things’ all sorts of everyday machines will be connected to the web - cars, fridges, ovens, even bins. Far from being science fiction, it is already happening. Samsung is already making washing machines that can be programmed remotely over Wi-Fi. Scanomat sells an iPhone-controlled coffee maker.
Want to set your thermostat, bake a cake? Now there really is an app for that.
While all these innovations could potentially represent significant steps forward in convenience, automation and consumers’ ability to keep track of how they live, they also raise big questions. If we’re entering a world where all our white goods are connected, society needs to decide how much they should know about us.
If you think about it from a different angle, the internet of things is already here, and has been since we got the wireless internet. After all, two decades ago we’d have struggled to imagine that making a phone call or reading a book would involve transmitting data to the manufacturer or signing into an online account, but these are now routine behaviours for anyone who owns a smartphone or an ereader.
It’s readily accepted now that media platforms are going to be connected - TVs were just the next step on from phones. From there it’s not much of a logical leap to get to microwaves and blenders, and why not if it can make daily life easier or more rewarding?
As data increasingly powers the digital economy, thanks to its ability to make companies more efficient and their services more targeted, there’s also a very good chance manufacturers and technology providers will want to collect more information from these appliances. In fact, it’s inevitable. It’s almost impossible now to go shopping online without hitting a registration wall, or using social media without having to surrender some control over the content you put there.
There’s no rational reason to believe that won’t start happening with more quotidian technology.
Of course, if it did, it would be an extremely undesirable outcome, and in fact it might well be the watershed where governments draw the line on the data that companies can collect from consumers. If we have to grant a lifelong exclusive licence to let companies access our spin cycles, or if we can’t open the cupboards without putting in a password, there’s good reason to think people will rebel.
Or maybe they won’t. Maybe by then we’ll be so accustomed to it that no-one will care. Either way, it won’t be long before these decisions seem less like speculative fiction and more like daily living.
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