It was only a couple of years ago that we – the public- started to understand the term Internet of Things (IoT). Until then, we’d never entertained the idea that our bathroom tap might want to have a chat with the dishwasher.
Our naiveté in these matters promised us many great things. It’s also promising many great dangers.
The IoT is full of inflated promises of increased efficiency, lives made easier, and people and industries made perfect. It’s reminiscent of Snowball falsely promising the others in Animal Farm that their new technology— The Windmill— would bring them a life of peace and leisure. A life in which “sordid labor” would be lifted from their backs.
The same promises were made when email and smartphones were invented. These progresses were hailed as a miraculous salve, ready to be employed by all for an easier and better life. The same is now happening with the IoT. The potential benefits grow bright, while the dangers are cast into the quiet shadows.
It’s time to draw attention to these dangers. Here are seven terrifying promises of the Internet of Things:
1. An Unbearable World of Advertisements
If you think ads being thrust upon you every time you use something digital is frustrating, you’ve seen nothing yet.
It won’t be long until your trousers are horrified by your weight gain. In turn, they’ll conspire against you. They’ll have the TV showing contextual ads about new fad diets. The touch-screen on the fridge will be selling you low-fat yogurt. Your watch will be telling you to pay for a new fitness app. Google could even have your NEST thermostat, with its many uses, telling you the weight-loss benefits of having the heat turned up.
It used to be the case that our private dwellings were our quiet escape from the bombardments of the high street. But marketers encroached on that privacy through TV ads, cold calling, and more recently, our connected devices. With the future promising the connectedness of everything including the kitchen sink, the only means of escaping so many advertisements will be atop a snow-covered mountain.
2. A Conspiracy of Perfection
With the IoT comes a burgeoning of “tracking devices“. Small devices that track everything from the steps you take, to a minute-by-minute analysis of your cortisol levels. By tracking certain aspects of our lives, we are told, we can “optimize” and “make better life choices”.
In other words, if we have enough data, we will know exactly what to do to become the perfect version of ourselves. If we’re overweight, unwell, tired, or stressed, the fault is ours for not paying attention to “The Data”.
Society will cast asunder us fat, unhappy ones simply for choosing human error over a life dictated by algorithms and apps. The corporations will no-doubt punish us, too. More expensive health insurance because the sensors in the fridge saw how many pork pies we’ve eaten, is just the beginning.
This pressure for continual self-improvement and optimization drags us further from the present than current technology forces us to go. This will necessarily drive an even greater wedge between those who are connected, and those who aren’t.
3. A Waste of Money
It used to be that when we bought a washing machine, it was a rare expense. The next one would be purchased in 15 years or so. Something might go wrong in the meantime, but the guy down the road would fix it.
Today, washing machines have a much shorter lifespan. We have to be prepared to shell out for a new one around every five years (thanks to planned obsolescence). A new smartphone, smartwatch, and tablet every three or four years. A new laptop every four to five years. These lifespans are short. The only consolation is that there’s not too many things to replace.
Until the IoT, that is.
Your mattress may not need replacing every couple of years, but the sensor inside of it may do. The same goes for your kitchen table, and the sofa. For cheaper connected devices like the kettle, toaster, your belt, light switches and door knobs; expect replacement of these components to become a new, regular expense.
When your house is awash with 30, 50, 100 connected devices, that’s a lot of electronic gadgetry to keep working 365 days per year. That’s a lot of replacing broken sensors. That’s a lot of money.
4. A Security Nightmare
The Internet has been around for around 20 years now, and its security is far from perfect. Hacker groups still ruthlessly take advantage of these flaws, despite spending billions on tech security. The IoT, on the other hand, is primitive. And so is its security.
As the IoT explodes, it’s physically impossible for the security industry to keep up. Simply password protecting each of our devices isn’t working. People are leaving default passwords set, leaving their devices massively vulnerable to attack. But who can blame them? Who would want to manually change the password for 75 devices around home and work?
Until this boatload of vulnerable tech is somehow secured (the most common sensors- RFID- actually have no security), your smart-TV‘s, baby monitors and even Jeep Cherokees, remain open to attack. Don’t expect this to be a problem that’ll disappear quickly.
5. A World of No Privacy
The reason there’s such a buzz about the IoT is quite simple. Once everything we do, say, think, and eat, is tracked, the big data that’s available about each of us is immensely valuable. When companies know our lives inside and out, they can use that data to make us buy even more stuff. Once they control your data, they control you.
When that data is anonymous, it helps companies sell to broad market segments. More preferable, and more valuable, is when that data is relatable to an individual (i.e. you and me). When a supermarket knows the food that you buy, they can offer you completely personalized deals. When Amazon tracks the products you look at, they can recommend other products based on your individual taste.
It’s good business, sure. But it also means that any information tracked about us, can be linked back to us. The calls you make, messages you send, food you eat, clothes you buy, photos you take. The sites you browse, time you spend sat down, number of beers you drink, steps you take, and conversations you have. This information is all open for the picking. Once your connected devices are neatly synced up, the picture of you available to corporations and governments will be more detailed than you could ever imagine. Privacy is dead.
6. Complete Digital Exhaustion
Look around. There’s little denying that we’re already over-connected. Kids around the world are suffering from extreme digital addiction. Family time is being ruined by smartphone notifications. What more do we expect from technology?
Is there any real benefit to be had from an oven that turns itself on when it knows you’re on your way home? From receiving a ping when you’re at work telling you the house is too cold? From your smartwatch telling you your plants need watering when you’re on a run?
All this is setting us up for is complete digital burn-out. The anti-tech movement of neo-luddism is fast expanding for a reason. People are tired of relying so much on technology. They’re craving a simpler way of life. Not the inflated promise of one, which is what we’re facing with IoT, but something actually simpler.
7. Impossible Choices
One of the most pressing technological choices we make today concerns the ecosystems we opt for. When we buy a laptop, do we choose Windows, or Apple? When we buy a smartphone, do we choose Android or iOS?
Once we’ve made a decision, it’s hard to go back. Moving all of your photos, music and videos from one ecosystem to another is a nightmare, and isn’t something you want to be repeating time and again.
When it comes to the IoT, the choice is even more important. This is because the industry is new, and there are no leading ecosystems to set the “Standard” for how devices communicate. The entire industry is fragmented. Think back to when HD-DVD was battling Blue-Ray. If you placed your bets on HD-DVD, you were out of pocket a year later. We’re in the same position now with the IoT.
If your entire building is running connected devices that rely on different ecosystems, you’ve got a nightmare on your hands. You’ll either have to live with juggling a ton of devices that can’t work together, or you’ll have to replace many of them once a single ecosystem dominates.
What Should We Hope For?
The IoT will undoubtedly bring benefits. But it’ll also bring many dangers. Those who are pushing for the IoT to become huge, are those who are set to profit the most from it, and we mustn’t be blindsided by this. After all, the IoT will run on Big Data. And Big Data means Big Money.
The focus of this article has largely been on the use of the IoT in the home. Seems this is the area that’s exciting so many consumers, it’s what so many people envision when they hear the term “Internet of Things”.
Yet the technology behind the IoT is doing some amazing works outside of the home as well. In the US, smart-tech is listening out for the sound of gunshots in neighborhoods. In Mumbai, sensors in the water system have helped to reduce lost water by 50%.
So we should stop getting giddy about how smart tech can connect our furniture and utensils to the Web. Instead we should focus our efforts on how we can use this technology to make real change. On how the IoT can offer real benefits to those who need it.
After all, who needs their toilet to tell them how many times they’ve been for a wee?
What other things scare you about the Internet of Things? What should we be wary of, and what should we be looking to avoid?
Image Credits: Google Chrome Advert by Clive Darra (Flickr), Makeup Mistake by Dale Mastin (Flickr), Money by Tax Credits (Flickr), Hacker Stock Photo by Adam Thomas (Flickr),Facebook: The privacy saga continues by opensource.com (Flickr), w4rp5oiRAAAAAWR!!!!! by Kevin Jaako (Flickr), Choices by Kyle Pearce (Flickr), Always In Motion Is The Future by JD Hancock (Flickr)