Resolved: That 2015 Is When Privacy & Security Become #IoT Priority!

I’m a right-brained, intuitive type (ENFP, if you’re keeping Myers-Briggs score…), and sometimes that pays off on issues involving technology & the general public, especially when the decidedly non-technical, primal issue of FEAR comes into the equation.

I used to do a lot of crisis management work with Fortune 100 companies, and usually worked with engineers, 95% of whom are my direct opposite: ISTJ.  Because they are so left-brained, rational and analytical, it used to drive them crazy that the public would be so fearful of various situations, because peoples’ reaction was just so darned irrational!

I’m convinced that same split is a looming, and extremely dangerous problem for the Internet of Things: the brilliant engineers who bring us all these great platforms, devices and apps just can’t believe that people could be fraidy cats.

Let me be blunt about it, IOT colleagues: get used dealing with peoples’ fears. Wise up, because that fear might just screw the IoT before it really gains traction. Just because a reaction is irrational doesn’t mean it isn’t very, very real to those who feel it, and they might just shun your technology and/or demand draconian regulations to enforce privacy and security standards. 

That’s why I was so upset at a remark by some bright young things at the recent Wearables + Things conference. When asked about privacy and security precautions (a VERY big thing with people, since it’s their very personal bodily data that’s at risk) for their gee-whiz device, they blithely said that they were just a start-up, and they’d get to security issues after they had the device technology squared away.

WRONG, KIDS: security and privacy protections have to be a key priority from the get-go.

That’s why I was pleased to see that CES asked FTC Chair Edith Ramirez to give opening remarks at a panel on security last week, and she specifically focused on “privacy by design,” where privacy protections are baked into the product from the get-go. She emphasized that start-ups can’t get off the hook:

“‘Any device that is connected to the Internet is at risk of being hijacked,’ said Ms. Ramirez, who added that the large number of Internet-connected devices would ‘increase the number of access points’ for hackers.

Ms. Ramirez seemed to be directing her remarks at the start-ups that are making most of the products — like fitness trackers and glucose monitors — driving the so-called Internet of Things.

She said that some of these developers, in contrast to traditional hardware and software makers, ‘have not spent decades thinking about how to secure their products and services from hackers.'”

I yield to no one in my love of serendipitous discoveries of data’s value (such as the breakthrough in early diagnosis of infections in neonates by researchers from IBM and Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children, but I think Ms. Ramirez was on target about IoT developers forcing themselves to emphasize minimization of data collection, especially when it comes to personal data:

“Beyond security, Ms. Ramirez said that technology companies needed to pay more attention to so-called data minimization, in which they collect only the personal data they need for a specific purpose and delete it permanently afterward. She directly challenged the widespread contention in the technology industry that it is necessary to collect large volumes of data because new uses might be uncovered.

‘I question the notion that we must put sensitive consumer data at risk on the off chance a company might someday discover a valuable use for the information,’ she said.

She also said that technology companies should be more transparent about the way they use personal data and should simplify their terms of use.”

Watch for a major IoT privacy pronouncement soon from the FTC.

It’s gratifying that, in addition to the panel Ms. Ramirez introduced, that CES also had an (albeit small…) area for privacy vendors.  As the WaPo reported, part of the reasons for this area is that the devices and apps are aimed at you and me, because “consumers are finding — thanks to the rise in identity theft, hacks and massive data breaches — that companies aren’t always good stewards for their information.” Dealing with privacy breaches is everyone’s business: companies, government, and you and me!

As WaPo reporter   concluded: “The whole point of the privacy area, and of many of the products being shown there, is that technology and privacy don’t have to fight. They can actually help each other. And these exhibitors — the few, the proud, the private — are happy to be here, preaching that message.”

So, let’s all resolve that 2015 when privacy and security become as big an IoT priority as innovation!


Oh, before I forget, its time for my gratuitous reference whenever I discuss IoT privacy and security, to Gen. David Petraeus (yes, the very General “Do As I Say, Not As I Do” Petraeus who faces possible federal felony charges for leaking classified documents to his lover/biographer.), who was quite enamored of the IoT when he directed the CIA. That should give you pause, no matter whether you’re an IoT user, producer, or regulator!

My take on the IoT at CES

Here I am languishing in bitterly-cold Massachusetts, while all the cool kids are playing with toys at CES!  I’ll try to get over it and give you my impressions of the Internet of Things new product introductions, as filtered through the lens of my IoT Essential Truths:

  • Perhaps the most important development is Samsung’s whole-hearted embrace of the IoT, building on its acquisition of SmartThings.  In his keynote, Samsung CEO BK Yoon struck exactly the right notes, emphasizing the need for open standards and collaboration.Within 5 years, all new Samsung products will be IoT enabled.Don’t forget that Samsung doesn’t just make consumer products, but also critical IoT tools such as sensors and chips.  Its 3-D range sensors that can detect tiny movements may be a critical IoT components.SmartThings CEO Alex Hawkinson was part of the presentation, and stressed:

    “For the Internet of Things to be a success, it has to be open, Any device, from any platform, must be able to connect and communicate with one another. We’ve worked hard to accomplish this, and are committed to putting users first, giving them the most choice and freedom possible.”

  • If was accurate, the GoBe calorie counter could be a great Quantified Self device. I still find it waaay to time-consuming and laboriously to look up specific foods’ caloric content and enter them into an app. However, The Verge says not so fast…..  What might be feasible is the InBody Bend, to measure the result of those calories — your body fat — and your heart rate. It’s also a pedometer and measures your calories burned. Oh, yeah, the Bend also tells time. Best of all, it will go 7-8 days between charges.
  • The HereO children’s watches seem like a great product for worried parents, allowing them to locate the wee ones via GPS.
  • While I think the key to realizing my “Smart Aging” paradigm shift will primarily be tweaking mainstream IoT Quantified Self and smart home devices for seniors’ special needs, there are some issues, such as hearing loss, that particularly affect seniors. In that category, Siemens’ Smart Hearing Aid looks promising, and an interesting example of enhancing a not-so-great existing product using IoT capabilities. A key is the unobtrusive clip-on easyTek  which complements the in-ear device, and can connect (via Bluetooth) to smartphones, computers or TVs, so that the hearing aides also function as earphones for those devices. As The Verge reports, even those with good hearing might end up using it.
  • However, my two favorite CES intros both enhance a decidedly 19th-century product, the bike.They illustrate the Essential TruthWhat Can You Do Now That You Couldn’t Do Before?
    Smart Pedal

    Smart Pedal

    One is a nifty substitute for a plain-vanilla pedal, from Connected Cycle. On a day-in-day-out basis, the pedal is a Quantified Self device, recording your speed, route, incline, and calories burned.

    However, when some miscreant steals your ride, it’s the two-wheel equivalent of Find My iPhone, telling you and the cops exactly where the bike’s located.

    Ok, that’s nice, but the other bike device introduced at CES can save your life!

    Smart Bike Helmet

    In the spirit of IoT collaboration, Volvo, Ericsson & sporting goods manufacturer POC have worked together on a smart helmet.

    The bike’s and the car’s locations are both uploaded to the cloud.

    If the  helmet is connected to a bike app such as Strava, built-in warning lights warn it there’s a car nearby, while a heads-up display on the dash warns the driver at the same time.

    I can’t see Volvo gaining any competitive advantage from this, and, of course, the technology will really only be effective if every hemet and every car are equipped with it, so I hope the partners will release it for universal adoption. Who would have ever thought that the IoT could peacefully bring bicyclists and motorists together. Just shows you that with the IoT, we’ll have to re-examine a lot of long-held beliefs!