The Internet of Things Must Be Built on a Foundation of Trust
Earlier this month, the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF) released its "10 Policy Principles for Unlocking the Potential of the Internet of Things." The Report touts the enormous potential for a connected world.
Unfortunately, it misses the vital point that industry needs to do more to build transparency and choice around data collection. Rather than call for privacy and data control standards, the principles propose things like minimizing regulatory costs of data collection and making it easier to share and reuse data.
Realizing all of the amazing potential benefits from new technology won't happen without consumer trust.
Policymakers and regulators have concerns about the Internet of Things because consumers have legitimate concerns about whether their data will be collected and used in unexpected ways. This caution is well-founded given near-weekly news about all types of data breaches, detailed profiling of consumers by data brokers, and government surveillance. Consumer trust is at an all-time low as evidenced by the popularity of Ad Block Plus (a blunt tool that blocks ads from being served) and the fact that an ever-increasing number of consumers are activating Do Not Track signals even though there is no industry standard yet. Drowning out policymaker and consumer concerns by issuing proclamations to 'leave the internet of things alone' isn't particularly helpful.
Our industry should make every attempt to address consumer concerns before policymakers and regulators step in with new laws and regulations, which can quickly become outdated and unable to adapt to the pace of technological development, changing practices or evolving business models. Legislative solutions often (unintentionally or intentionally) favor established businesses, while raising barriers to enter the marketplace.
The Internet of Things will notch up connectivity, leading to new benefits for consumers but will also continue to raise even more questions about how consumer data is collected, shared and used. Imagine all of your appliances "talking" to each other and then sharing data with your smartphone. And who else has access to your smartphone data? Verizon does. The ITIF report even points to the example of an infant onesie that will track information on babies while they sleep. Sounds great, except many parents would want to ensure that stats about their kids aren't being shared with third parties.
Some consumers may choose to "disconnect" altogether. Some will take a wait-and-see approach to watch for unexpected invasions of privacy, unintended consequences, or data breaches. Some may not care. Regardless, without trust, consumers are far less likely to meaningfully engage with targeted or contextual advertising. Let's learn our lessons from the past 15 years of online advertising and set up an ecosystem built on trust and transparency.
Fortunately, there are some good actors providing an example on how to move proactively and thoughtfully. As any recent new car owner can attest, the auto industry has rapidly adopted the Internet of Things, providing an array of benefits to consumers. To its credit, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers developed a set of "Consumer Privacy Protection Principles." While some may argue that they don't go far enough, they are thinking about consumers first and seeking to have a dialogue about additional ways to make sure that consumers feel protected. We should applaud the auto industry for reinforcing the importance of securing and minimizing data, respecting the context in which data was collected, and for providing consumers with choices.
While not every device in the Internet of Things has direct consumer application, we must consider the consumer when laying the foundation for many of the incredible possibilities of this next phase of our connected lives. Other industries should follow the lead of the auto makers and be proactive and transparent in order to ensure consumer trust. Instead of issuing proclamations to policymakers and regulators to leave the Internet of Things alone, let's start a conversation about how to protect consumers and their data, about how to educate consumers about the ways their data is collected and used, and find ways to give consumers choices. Leading this conversation builds consumer trust, which will pave the way to a successful future for the Internet of Things.