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Editor’s Comment: Why each of us will need an IoT ‘off’ button

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Location tracking as it should be done, with opt-ins for family members

We have written recently (see stories at bottom) about the potential role for Pay TV operators and their vendors in the Internet of Things. One of the biggest value-adds they can provide is tackling data security and privacy issues associated with the IoT. The greatest opportunity of all could be to protect us, at an individual level, rather than just our homes, devices and connections, to effectively give us our own personal firewall and ‘off’ button so we can disconnect from the grid at will, even if others in our family or company are still connected.

The rise of Smart Homes but especially Smart Cities, where streetlamps could track where you walk and cars transmit your whereabouts, has civil liberties implications. Assume that you do not live in a liberal democracy and you are a political dissident living under an autocratic regime. The people you meet and talk to could literally cost you your life. 

Even in our happy democracies we may have told our health insurer we don’t smoke, when in fact we do, and in future the home smoke or atmosphere detectors might give the game away. “Well, you shouldn’t lie”, you could argue, but lying is one of the freedoms we all take for granted. Think about when you were 15. Did you tell your parents, honestly, where you were the whole time? What will happen to the kids who follow us, so easily tracked and monitored? Don’t they have a right to cut loose from parental control and head to the shops when they told their parents they were staying late for school revision classes?

The IoT has amazing potential – there are so many times when it makes sense for us to give our location, and so many reasons to share personal information – like heart monitors with your health carers. The family app tracker in the photo above is a brilliant idea, running on mobile devices and letting you view family members on a map and receive alerts when they arrive at home, school or work. The company behind it, Life360, says its research shows that people dedicate 6-8 text messages a day to the question: ‘Where are you?’

‘Why not just open the Life360 map and answer it for yourself?’, they ask. And why not, given that it is an opt-in system. This kind of service represents the foothills of the IoT – benign and positive. 

But will all of the IoT that follows have opt-ins? At some point most of us would probably want to disconnect from the Internet of Things, even if just for an hour or two. We are going to need that as a civil right.

We must be able to choose how much of our data is shared, when it is shared and who it is shared with, at an individual user level. Even within the same family (and especially in a shared household of adults, like students) not everyone will have the same sensitivities (or lack of them) about privacy and personal data. So when we reach the point when virtually everything we do at home or outside can be monitored and tracked, that will create a complex web of data flows and someone needs to make it easy for us to tick boxes and opt-outs and set parameters about the times of day when data is shared. In the case of the lying smoker, you block historical records of low-level carbon monoxide that could be attributed to cigarettes but allow alerts if higher levels of the gas are detected.

As a society, we will eventually be forced to decide upon the right to deceive – and especially the right for children to deceive parents (and what they can lie about, and at what ages). It is a freedom we all took for granted.

All this complexity makes me think of content rights management. Right now, content security companies have to translate multiple business rules (like Programme A can be shown on Apple iPads but not on Android tablets, and it can be watched in the UK but must be geo-blocked in France, etc.) into content security actions (via conditional access or DRM). Those decisions have to then be enforced across multiple device types.

You can imagine how this could play out in the IoT. We would have personal rights management and each of us could decide exactly what information we share, when and who with, and from which devices. And obviously you must be able to make real-time decisions to disconnect yourself from the IoT grid, like if you are Christmas shopping and have nipped into a specialist shop for your wife’s present, and it must not show up on her all-seeing Apple iPhone 12s. 

We have just seen ‘Humans’ on Channel 4 in the UK, the drama (based on Real Humans) about human-like robots called synths (synthetics) that serve us as au-pairs and housemaids and even physiotherapists and personal health assistants (in the drama one of the original synth inventors, now an old man, has a nagging district nurse type figure who lives with him and tries to force him to comply with doctors orders). The drama looks at how society would have to deal with the rise of artificial intelligence and robots.

In the real world, the day will come when we have to deal with the impact of IoT on our right to privacy and our right to deceive and to simply ‘go missing’. If we assume that those rights are acknowledged in law, then somebody will have to enforce them. Meanwhile it could be a great business opportunity to protect the individual against the IoT anyway. 

We will need the right to disconnect ourselves from a wireless streetlight tracking network, even if the light is set by default to suck data from our phone or other devices and send it into the Smart City super-hub. Each of us needs to be treated like a device on the network and given an ‘off’ button and a firewall.

Related stories:

Verimatrix Has A Vision Of One Global Pay TV Headend Covering Security And Data Analytics

Content security vendors need to prevent babycam hacking nightmares

The Role Of Pay TV In The Internet Of Things

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