More evidence U.S. lags dangerously behind EU on IoT privacy

There’s new confirmation that the U.S. remains dangerously behind the European Union on the twin issues of Internet of Things privacy and security. As I’ve warned before, especially in the context of the continued outrage over the NSA surveillance, if these issues aren’t solved collaboratively by the private sector and government, they threaten to derail the IoT express.

In her Stanford Masters thesis, I believe Mailyn (sic) Fidler accurately summarizes the US’s stance:

“The IoT in the United States is characterized by late but strong entry of companies to the market and by recent, but minimal, interest from the federal government. Specifically, the federal government views the IoT largely as part of the ongoing privacy and security discussion in Washington, D.C. Complicating analysis of the IoT in the United States is that the “Internet of Things” is not a generally recognized term. In the U.S., the IoT is viewed as a natural evolution of American innovation rather than as a unique field.” contrasts this lack of concern by the government to the EU, which, while also

Mailyn Fidler

viewing IoT privacy in the broader context of general privacy policy, has made IoT personal privacy and security a priority — more about that in a future post about the “Butler Project” report):

“The IoT has been a political priority for the European Union. Even with the recent recession, interest and funding in IoT enterprises has not slowed, and the EU has invested 70 million Euros in at least 50 research projects since 2008. In addition to the EU’s hopes that the IoT will bring economic benefits, particularly to small businesses and public institutions, the EU’s interest in the IoT reflects its concerns about who controls emerging technologies. Indeed, EU officials have stated an ambition to build an IoT ‘that will bring about clear advantages for Europe.’

However, despite the EU’s investments, a lack of legislative clarity, slow technical progress, and pressure from international strategic interactions threaten to slow EU efforts to develop a globally competitive, European-centric IoT.

The EU considers privacy a societal priority and has a history of regulating technologies to prevent privacy risks, as its Data Protection Directive indicates. The IoT is no different. The privacy risks the IoT presents, however, are discussed in the context of ongoing data protection reform in the EU. EU officials are debating how to author broad, technology-neutral guidance while, at the same time, many officials seem convinced that technology-specific guidance will be necessary. The EU’s political prioritization of the IoT fuels attempts at lobbying for IoT-specific regulation, as the myriad, overlapping attempts at IoT guidance demonstrate. The IoT’s advancement, then, is mired in this larger debate about the future of technology policy.”

Even with this greater focus, Fidler says the EU hasn’t made as much progress as might be hoped. Only 1 of the 33 2010 Cluster of European Research Projects on IoT explicitly investigated security, and, in a study the same year of IoT standards, only 2 or 175 explicityly investigated security — and none have addressed IoT cybersecurity.

In other words, they ain’t great, but we’re worse (in fact, among US agencies, only the FTC seems to give a fig about the IoT). Pathetic.

Fidler’s report also covers China. You can bet that privacy and security aren’t high on their priority list, LOL.

The EU, while perhaps lagging behind on IoT technology, may get the last laugh on the privacy and security issues. As we’ve seen with successful suits against Microsoft and Google on other Internet issues, the EU has prevailed in the past on questions of privacy and security, and, according to Fidler, it may happen again:

“The EU, faced with the IoT approaches of the United States and China—arguably the leading centers of technological innovation—may stand behind its social parameters and emphasis on new international governance mechanisms as a way of asserting alternative power. With such laws and institutions, economic activities involving the EU and the IoT would have to conform to EU-based standards. The EU, thus, compensates for technological disadvantages in innovation through social and governance parameters. Similarly, the United States and China are seeking to maintain or create their technical edge in new cyber technologies by encouraging unique standards regimes or more aggressive development environments.”

If so, I say bully for them! Someone has to stand up for the individual in this brave new world, and it looks as if the Obama Administration isn’t taking the challenge. Shame!

Fidler concludes that the geopolitical competition among the U.S., E.U., and China may have negative effects on the IoT’s overall growth if it results in incompatible standards:

“This geopolitical competition at such an early stage of the IoT’s development could create international interoperability problems, with negative political, economic, and social consequences. How governments and societies navigate the technological and political aspects of the emergence of the IoT will determine if the IoT’s benefits will be ubiquitously available or if the Internet’s foray into the realm of things will be interrupted.”

FADE TO Youngbloods singing “Get Together”…..

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Fewer, faster, finer: good values for #IoT innovators!

Just had a great conversation with a brilliant consultant, Michael Woody, the president and founder of International Marketing Advantages, Inc (he and I have the same wonderful literary agent, Michael Snell).

Woody helps small, innovative companies successfully compete with China, using a simple formula: fewer, faster, finer.

  • Fewer: think of China’s Foxcom, and its huge factory complexes and huge production runs. By contast, “American Dragon” companies ” lower minimum order sizes; the lower a minimum order size, the better. If a product can be customized, even better still.”

  • Faster: think about how far away China is, and how long it takes to ship products: “In today’s business environment of tighter margins, it is likely that your U.S. customers currently buying from China favor low inventory levels and just in time delivery. Given these conditions, short production lead times and physical proximity of supply chain partners becomes more critical.”
  • Finer: “…means not only that your product is of the highest quality, but also that it is safe. Overseas manufacturers, particularly those in China, have little to no understanding of the product safety regulations in the United States. Even large multi-national corporations, some based in the U.S, who have outsourced manufacturing to China are learning that lesson the hard way. These tougher regulations are your friend, so use them to your advantage.”

Check out the American Dragon site, and think hard on how to apply these principles in conjunction with your innovative Internet of Things product design, and I think you’ve got the formula for manufacturing success!


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Finally! Feedburner feed finally available for this blog!

Posted on 17th July 2013 in Uncategorized

It took me forever, but I finally figured out how to create an easy-to-use Feedburner feed for this blog! All you have to do is to click on the RSS chiclet in the upper right-hand corner of this page to subscribe to the feed so this blog will automatically show up in your favorite reader whenever there’s a new post.


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GE Eggminder: could this simple product build IoT awareness?

Posted on 17th July 2013 in home automation, Internet of Things

As someone who spends much of his time introducing the Internet of Things to people who’ve never heard of it, much less thought about how it might improve their lives, I think there might be something to the logic of this Fast Company article about the GE Eggminder.

The article points out that the IoT still provokes blank stares from most people, a fact that those of us who are immersed in it every day may tend to forget. As the subhead said, “EGG MINDER MIGHT BE DUMB PRODUCT DESIGN, BUT AS A PIECE OF MASS COMMUNICATION ABOUT WEB-CONNECTED PRODUCTS, IT JUST MIGHT BE GENIUS.”

GE Eggminder

The Eggminder doesn’t do much — tells you, via the app, how many eggs you have left in your fridge, but it’s the kind of simple-to-understand example of the kinds of connectivity possible through the IoT that is likely to make a lot of people say “Now I get it!”

It’s not life-changing, as the article points out, and maybe even dumb: “(How dumb? To quote Quirky’s own product evaluation video, ‘it’s a pain in the ass,’ ‘superfluous,’ ‘really silly,’ and ‘the height of laziness.’).  BTW: am I right in guessing that this might have been one of the award winners in the contest that GE, Quirky and Electric Imp held to find fast-to-market IoT products. which I praised as an example of the kind of collaboration it will take to capitalize on the IoT?

My personal favorites in terms of IoT products that are easy to understand are the SmartSlippers that can alert a caregiver when a frail senior is likely to fall, or the onesie that alerts parents that their baby has stopped breathing — in time to avoid SIDS. But you get the point: until people see something that could simplify their life — or save it, they may not understand exactly how revolutionary the IoT is.

So let’s have more Eggminders — simple products that will result in more “aha moments” — and speed public adoption of the IoT!

GE Eggminder
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et. al.: Head Start cuts due to sequester

Posted on 16th July 2013 in et. al., government

When I relaunched this blog, I promised that it would occasionally touch on non-Internet of Things, non-big data issues. So here goes.

Instead of going into the Army, I started my career as a Conscientious Objector (something of which I’m immensely proud — as proud as I am of my son the Army Lt. Colonel!), working for several years as a Head Start day care teacher. That was terribly satisfying: I really felt I made a difference in the young lives of poor kids, getting them off to a good start in the education system. I hope it made a difference in their adult lives.

That’s why I was terribly disappointed to see that among the real effects of the sequester — yes, it is affecting real programs that serve real people — is forced cutbacks in Head Start programs across the U.S. More than 70,000 kids will be denied Head Start slots unless the cuts are restored.

This result of the disgusting (I’m not going to mince words) partisan gridlock in Washington is simply unacceptable! As a country, our children are our future, and, make no mistake about it, we will all pay, one way or the other: either for good Head Start programs now, or later, for low-productivity, poverty, and crime. Call your representative now, and demand that the cuts be restored.

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Shodan: maybe this will get people to take IoT privacy/security seriously!

Wired has an article this week about Shodan, the “IoT search engine,” which I hope scares the bejesus out of enough companies and government officials that they’ll finally realize how absolutely critical it is that we make security and privacy THE top public policy/corporate management priorities regarding the IoT.

Shodan’s homepage proudly proclaims that it will let you “EXPOSE ONLINE


DEVICES: webcams, routers, power plants, iPhones, wind turbines, refrigerators (there’s that meme again!), VoIP phones.” Anyone out there who isn’t covered by that list? If so, stay in your cave!

As for everyone else, maybe you’d be more properly attracted by the CNN story about Shodan several months ago: “Shodan: the scariest search engine on the Internet.” Got your attention yet?

Here’s what Shodan can do, according to CNN:

“It’s stunning what can be found with a simple search on Shodan. Countless traffic lights,security cameras, home automation devices and heating systems are connected to the Internet and easy to spot.

Shodan searchers have found control systems for a water park, a gas station, a hotel wine cooler and a crematorium. Cybersecurity researchers have even located command and control systems for nuclear power plants and a particle-accelerating cyclotron by using Shodan.”

Command and control systems for nuclear power plants? Sheesh!

Reminds me that while the Obama Administration remains abysmally ignorant of the IoT (and, remember, I’m a fan of them in general …) one official who was all in was former CIA Director David Petraeus:

“‘Transformational’ is an overused word, but I do believe it properly applies to these technologies,’ Petraeus enthused, ‘particularly to their effect on clandestine tradecraft.’

All those new online devices are a treasure trove of data if you’re a ‘person of interest’ to the spy community. Once upon a time, spies had to place a bug in your chandelier to hear your conversation. With the rise of the ‘smart home,’ you’d be sending tagged, geolocated data that a spy agency can intercept in real time when you use the lighting app on your phone to adjust your living room’s ambiance.

‘Items of interest will be located, identified, monitored, and remotely controlled through technologies such as radio-frequency identification, sensor networks, tiny embedded servers, and energy harvesters — all connected to the next-generation internet using abundant, low-cost, and high-power computing,’Petraeus said, ‘the latter now going to cloud computing, in many areas greater and greater supercomputing, and, ultimately, heading to quantum computing.’

Petraeus allowed that these household spy devices ‘change our notions of secrecy’ and prompt a rethink of’ ‘our notions of identity and secrecy.’ All of which is true — if convenient for a CIA director.”

Sufficiently alarmed yet?

Let me be clear: I am convinced that security and privacy are the two issues that have the greatest potential to stop the Internet of Things dead in its tracks — and I felt that way even before Edward Snowden was a household name.

Snowden, ooops, Shodan, has revealed shocking indifference to security on the part of countless organizations (and, BTW, don’t forget that 85% of the U.S.’s critical infrastructure — power plants, pipelines, chemical factories, etc., is in private hands):

“A quick search for ‘default password‘ reveals countless printers, servers and system control devices that use  ‘admin’ as their user name and ‘1234’ as their password. Many more connected systems require no credentials at all — all you need is a Web browser to connect to them.

In a talk given at last year’s Defcon cybersecurity conference, independent security penetration tester Dan Tentler demonstrated how he used Shodan to find control systems for evaporative coolers, pressurized water heaters, and garage doors.

He found a car wash that could be turned on and off and a hockey rink in Denmark that could be defrosted with a click of a button. A city’s entire traffic control system was connected to the Internet and could be put into ‘test mode’ with a single command entry. And he also found a control system for a hydroelectric plant in France with two turbines generating 3 megawatts each.

This is as scary as the Vanity Fair article last year about how a miscreant could use an iPhone to kill you!

The 85% of critical infrastructure in private hands number should be a stark reminder: the only way we can possibly address IoT privacy and security is through collaborative government/private sector action — with strong involvement by you and me.

If you are involved in the IoT in any way, you simply can’t duck this issue!


ivee Sleek: 1st Wifi voice-activated assistant for home

Posted on 9th July 2013 in home automation, Internet of Things, M2M

I’m still dubious about the Internet of Things refrigerator meme (although, as someone who shops daily for dinner and only decides what to cook about 2 hours before hand on the basis of a web search for something novel, it would be cool to instantly know what ingredients I had on hand…), BUT home automation is definitely cool (and the Nest’s success shows consumers are ready for it).

I bet having the IoT affect people’s home life will also drive a lot of IoT adoption at work (the same way a lot of CEOs were introduced to the wonders of e-commerce back in the day when their kids showed them how to buy books on Amazon).

SOO, the news that ivee Sleek has launched a Kickstart campaign (as is typical for IoT ivee_sleek_smallcampaigns on Kickstart, it’s already waay over its goal!!)  for its wifi voice activated assistant for the home is big news! There’s already one backer who’s pledged $10,000, and gets the Big Enchilada perk:

“All-inclusive Factory Tour in Asia! — We will first fly you out to meet us in Hong Kong for dinner and a night on the town with the ivee team. The next day we will head to Shenzhen in order to visit our factory and tour the manufacturing floor. You will have a chance to pick any ivee (in either pearl white or night black) as she is being made right before your eyes! We’ll spend the night in Shenzhen before heading back to Hong Kong for the remainder of the trip. This trip will include air fare + hotel + meals for 7 days. Limited to 5.”

I ask you, does crowdsourcing rule, or what???

The team says that “Our goal is to create a simpler and more natural way of interfacing with the Internet and your smart home. We want to deliver the virtual assistant experience that you’ve been dreaming about for years. (their italics)”

Here’s the nitty-gritty: the device will ship in October, and initial voice commands that you’ll be able to speak include:

  • Reminders – e.g. “Remind me to pick up the kids from school at 2:45pm.”
  • Controls Devices – e.g. “Set the thermostat to 71 degrees.”
  • Alarms – e.g. “Wake me up at 6:30am.”
  • Time – e.g. “What time is it in Hong Kong?”
  • Weather – e.g. “What’s the weather going to be like in New York on Friday?”
  • Stocks – e.g. “What’s the stock price of Google?”
  • Sleep Sounds – e.g. “Play ocean waves for 15 minutes.”
  • Bed Time Stories – e.g.  “Read me a bed time story, please.”
  • Settings – e.g.  “Turn up the volume.”
  • FM Radio – e.g. “Tune the radio to 102.7 FM.”
  • Personality – e.g. “How old are you?”

I know there are some who grumble that getting this kind of information automatically will make us slaves to our machines, but it seems to me that it will actually just remove a lot of the minor hassles from our lives and improve our quality of life (and, as the website points out, it can be a real benefit for those with vision problems or who have trouble with computers), so I opt in!

ivee’s online dashboard will let users personalize their experience and connect it to many third party smart home devices, such as thermostats, locks, lights, plugs, vacuums, and more, including the Nest, WeMo, and the Roomba.

Now we’re talking!





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$100 billion potential savings in medical costs: more evidence for GlowCap!

Posted on 2nd July 2013 in government, health, Internet of Things

In the draft of the article on the Internet of Things that Cisco’s Dave Evans and I hope to sell to the Harvard Business Review, the lede (BTW, I love old newsie terms, like “pieing the type”…) is about reducing the waste in medical spending by improving patients’ compliance rate with drug compliance through use of the Vitality GlowCap, my favorite poster child for the IoT. glowcaps_loops

If you aren’t familiar with the GlowCap, it fits on a regular pill bottle, but has an important difference: each one has its own IP address, and includes a sensor, transmitter and battery.It’s preset for the time when you and your doctor agree you should take the pill.

When it’s time to take your pill, the cap begins to glow and  makes a gentle sound. As soon as you take the cap off and replace it, a signal is sent to the company’s server where it is recorded: you and your doctor both get reports of your rate of compliance (for the first time, the doctor actually knows if you’ve taken your pill: no guesswork!). But if you don’t take it, the sound and light become more insistant, and continue for two hours. Then, if you still haven’t taken it, you and/or a caregiver or relative get an email, text or recorded alert. How cool is that? By pressing on the bottom of the cap you can even place an automated request to your pharmacy to refill the prescription! Bottom line? With the GlowCap, studies show that patient compliance increases from an average of 50% to 85%.

According to these new numbers from the IMS Institute for Healthcare, that’s HUGE: they estimate that failure to take pills on time results in $100 billion in wasted health care spending annually

I’m still dubious about the nirvana of IoT refrigerators that will prepare my shopping list for me (I’m more the kind of chef who, about 2 hours before dinner, starts to wander the online recipe sources for something I’ve never made before: until my refrigerator becomes psychic, I’m not holding my breath…), but the GlowCap is just the kind of IoT device that can truly make our lives a little simpler, and save money — and lives — in the process!

P.S.: I’ve tried it myself. It really works.

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#IoT breakthrough! 3-D printing tiny batteries to allow “smart dust”

Posted on 1st July 2013 in 3-D printing, energy, Internet of Things, M2M

Last Friday my wife and I were driving through the wilds of Utah (aside: wow, is the West different from The Hub of the Universe!) when we chanced upon SciFri, which was doing a great segment about cool government-funded energy research (no, not the Solindra picking winners-type stuff, but real basic research that can lead to quantum leaps in performance).

One of the speakers was Prof. Jennifer Lewis, who has the all-time greatest academic title:  Hansjörg Wyss Professor of Biologically Inspired Engineering at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences! Go biomimicry (just a little reminder, BTW, that nature has already solved every problem that we, as an advanced, information-based economy, face. Think not? The answer to your problem lies just outside your window: we’re just too divorced from nature to be able to see it!)!

OK, got that out of my system…..

Now for the big news: Prof. Lewis’ team and their associates at the University of Illinois have invented the Holy Grail for Internet of Things sensors: lithium-ion batteries the size of a grain of sand, created through 3-D printing (as you may remember, I blogged recently about the role 3-D printing could play in fully-realizing the IoT’s potential. Little did I think it would be this soon, and this direct a role)!

This is a game-changer when it comes to sensors: their size has been getting smaller and smaller, but the big obstacle to realizing Kristofer Pister’s vision of “smart dust” sensors so tiny and self-powered that they could be strewn about was that the batteries were still relatively big and clunky. Lewis’ breakthrough changes all of that.

lithium-ion batteries produced by 3-D printing

The batteries are built by printing precisely interlaced stacks of tiny battery electrodes, each less than the diameter of a human hair.

Here’s the process:

“In this case, the inks also had to function as electrochemically active materials to create working anodes and cathodes, and they had to harden into layers that are as narrow as those produced by thin-film manufacturing methods. To accomplish these goals, the researchers created an ink for the anode with nanoparticles of one lithium metal oxide compound, and an ink for the cathode from nanoparticles of another. The printer deposited the inks onto the teeth of two gold combs, creating a tightly interlaced stack of anodes and cathodes. Then the researchers packaged the electrodes into a tiny container and filled it with an electrolyte solution to complete the battery.”

The research was funded by the National Science Foundation and the DOE Energy Frontier Research Center on Light-Material Interactions in Energy Conversion.

This is so exciting. Now to commercialize the technology and to turn our attention to the real obstacles to the Internet of Things: privacy and security problems!">Stephenson blogs on Internet of Things Internet of Things strategy, breakthroughs and management