Technology sometimes needs to reach a tipping point before governmental regulation catches up. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is trying to get ahead of the curve by issuing a privacy and security report on the Internet of Things (IoT), presented as a series of recommendations for makers of connected devices. The FTC wants to minimize security and privacy risks by reducing the amount of data that these devices collect, and making sure that these devices, or their makers, clearly indicate to users the amount and sort of data they’ll collect. Thinkers, designers, and manufacturers continue to find new uses and potential for the IoT. In the future, our cars, home appliances, phones, watches, entertainment, and much more will likely all be connected. The report singles out health care as a potential beneficiary. Pacemakers, insulin pumps, and other life-saving devices connecting to the IoT could provide health care professionals with real-time updates about their users’ medical condition. Big Data, Big Risks No one questions this potential, but enabling and unlocking it requires sharing lots of data among these devices. The report estimates that, today, there are 25 million Internet-connected devices, and that number could rise to 50 billion by 2020. By that same year, the FTC believes 90 percent of cars could have Internet connections. By 2018, the report says, mobile devices could generate 15 exabytes bytes of worldwide data traffic per month. Because big numbers require context: that amount of data translates into roughly 750,000 years of DVD-quality video. Even that example is hard to fathom—it’s a lot of data. Any device that transmits data may be tracked, any data transmitted may be intercepted, any device that stores data may be hacked, and even data collected legitimately may open up unintended consequences. To minimize these possibilities, the FTC recommends four options: no data collection, collection of no more data than is required for device functionality, collection only of less important data, or removal of user identity from collected data. Minimizing Risk While Maximizing Benefit Even some who participated in the creation of the report worry that “data minimization” could limit the potential benefit of new technologies, as companies might not be able to anticipate which data will provide the most—or unexpected—benefits. Others questioned whether users will actually use devices that require lengthy initial or frequent consent, hindering adoption of IoT devices. The report’s discussions of data security are less interesting than its discussions of which data should be collected. The FTC recommends and assumes that companies will implement responsible security standards in line with existing industry best practices. But it makes the valid point that data that’s not collected can’t be at risk. Furthermore, it takes surprisingly few data points to identify individuals, even when the identifying data has been removed. The Commission also recognizes that, in some cases, providing notification and requiring user consent about collected data is unnecessary, depending on the context—whether consumers should reasonably expect that data to be collected. To use the earlier pacemaker example — reasonable people would expect their pacemaker to report things like heart rate, so that kind of data collection should require no consent. However, data from a car that reports how often its driver goes through the fast food drive-through could be used to increase health insurance rates. Because users might not expect that kind of data sharing, the FTC believes it should require notification and authorization. User Experience One problem with this theory is that some devices, like pacemakers, don’t have a user interface that can inform the user about what data it collects and who it shares that data with. Some devices, like cars, do have suitable interfaces, but using it while driving could pose its own danger. The FTC report recognizes these challenges and offers suggestions, including QR codes, point-of-purchase disclosure, video tutorials, and other alternate methods of creating awareness. It’s Not Law—For Now For the time being, the FTC says its recommendations are just that. However, the same report recommends that Congress endorse online privacy practices, and President Obama’s push for the same, so device makers would be wise to assume that these recommendations could someday become law. Photo Credit: Elif Ayiter/Flikr The Internet of Things (IoT) brought with it an endless array of opportunities to help make our lives easier by connecting everyday objects to the Internet, sometimes making them seemingly self-reliant. There are great innovations on the horizon and some already here. Then there are others, whether just in ideation or already manufactured, will leave you scratching your head. Food that Cooks Itself We’re constantly on the go these days and between work, yoga classes, doctor’s appointments, and getting the kids off to school, who has time to cook? New restaurants pop up on a daily basis and there are even delivery services that will pick up your food from a restaurant and deliver it to your door for you. We might as well just invent technology that can cook dinner for us, and it seems that some people are already on top of this. For starters, the Crock-Pot WeMo Smart Slow Cooker is a fun new invention. This thing allows you to monitor and adjust cooking times from your smartphone. You can literally cook pot roast while you’re at work. Why stop there, though? Personally, my biggest problem is cooking on the grill. Having one of those that can tell exactly how long to cook your meat to get it just the right amount of medium would sure make family BBQs a little easier. Well, it turns out, that one’s coming too. You’ll be able to fix dinner with voice commands soon enough. Making the Roads Safer One of the biggest devices IoT developers are going to look to down the road will be vehicles. Imagine a world in which congestion, traffic and wrecks can all be avoided because the cars on the road can all talk to each other. It looks like something that many people are already putting some thought into. They’ve already got something similar for cyclists with the ICEdot Crash Sensor. Sensors in both cars and roads would communicate traffic problems, could possibly brake the car in case of an emergency and maybe even drive the car without any assistance from us at all. It sounds like something out of a Sci-Fi film, but it may not be as far away as we think. Healthy Vanity With the influx of Instagram, selfies and Snapchat invading the Internet it’s not like we really need more reasons to stare at ourselves, but this one might make it worth the extra shot of vanity. The Cybertecture Mirror has been around a few years now, but it doesn’t have a wide release into homes across the country. The mirror essentially monitors your heart rate and can tell you if you’re about to have any problems just by looking into it. It picks out the light pattern of your heart rate (how your heart rate affects your blood pattern and pulse) and is able to determine your overall health. Imagine if this thing were hooked up to the Internet a little further. It could potentially become an in-home doctor. Integrating technology that could monitor not only your heart, but test your sight, breathing and hearing could clue you in to any array of potential problems that might need attention. The Internet of Things Could Literally Be Your New Friend We’ve been talking about it for what seems like forever, but it looks like robots capable of “thinking” and interacting with us are finally here. Case in point is Jibo, the World’s First Family Robot. Jibo is an artificially intelligent Internet-connected robot that can see, hear and learn. He acts as a maid, helps the kids with homework and even provides modicum of security for your home. That’s only the beginning. Jibo is sort of an all-in-one appliance that also serves as a camera that recognizes when you’re posing for a shot, a messenger that can also recognize your family members’ faces and a phone that provides video calling. If he weren’t so tiny he might be creepy. If we’re already at the point of developing something like Jibo, how long until we have appliances that do all of the cooking and baking for us, mops and vacuums that know when to clean up themselves or, and this would be awesome, maybe leashes that can walk the dog for you? The IoT opens the doors for a whole new world of at-home appliances designed to give us the freedom to use more of our day doing what we love. Photo By Keoni Cabral/Flikr If you thought the world was smart now, prepare for the super intelligence spurred by Google’s latest life-changing project: the physical web. The physical web aims to assign objects and devices with an easily detectable and accessible URL that allows your smart device to connect and communicate with the world around you.

How the Physical Web Works

While the physical web will ultimately function as a rebuttal of individual smart apps, it is currently run as an app that tries to not feel like one. Instead of having to directly interact with the app, the physical web functions in the background and monitors beacons as you pass them. Rather than receiving endless notifications about smart objects you pass, you only see these accessible objects in a list when you are interested in browsing. The list is ordered like a typical Google search and takes into account your browsing history, preferences, and location, to personalize the list of objects around you. For example, connect to the URL of a bus stop, and you can find out the bus schedule for the day and when the next bus is due to arrive. Connect to a vending machine or parking meter and you can pay using a mobile wallet. Walk into a store, and its URL allows you to automatically integrate your in-store and online shopping experiences. Scott Jenson, a designer on the project, says, “Our core premise is that you should be able to walk up to any ‘smart’ physical object (e.g. A vending machine, a poster, a toy, a bus stop, a rental car) and interact with it without first downloading an app. The user experience of smart objects should be much like links in a web browser: i.e. just tap and use.”

Why You Should Care About the Physical Web

This project has a number of implications for everyday interactions. The physical web immediately connects you with everything that’s around you, from establishments to inanimate objects. This means you’ll have more information available to you than ever before right in the palm of your hand. Constant connection with the world around you means being better able to plan your day, improve communication, take care of chores, entertain yourself, and accomplish any number of tasks more easily. This type of connection leads to a number of shifts in culture. For example, the physical web’s human-to-object connections may usher in the responsive city movement. Matt Stempeck, a contributor to the Harvard Business Review, explains, “A responsive city is one where services, infrastructure, and even policies can flexibly respond to the rhythms of its denizens in real-time.” The term “responsive city” is taken from a book by Stephen Goldsmith and Susan Crawford that highlights the eventual intersection of government with the technology citizens use daily. This movement means an integration of government information, devices, and services with people’s behaviors that intends to improve the functionality of a city as a whole. Essentially, the physical web and responsive cities would make The Internet of Things a reality.

Are Apps a Thing of the Past?

Apps are currently the primary components of connections and interactions between humans and devices, but that may not always be the case. In the future, a service like the physical web will reduce the fragmentation and disconnect we experience every day using multiple apps to accomplish tasks. Instead of having an app to control your living room lighting, another to control your stereo system, and another to control door locks, the physical web would give you direct access to each item from a single interface. This doesn’t necessarily mean all apps phase out as the physical web moves in. You will probably still have games and organizational apps that won’t connect to other objects and thus might not connect with the physical web. Along with the advent of the physical web, the app industry will likely take a hit, particularly companies who spent time and money developing individualized apps for their products and services. App developers will find themselves shifting mindsets from individual apps to thinking in connectivity patterns as they link objects with smartphones and larger networks on the physical web.

The physical web signifies a new wave of technology and communication destined to change the world and how you interact with it for decades to come. Still in infancy stages but available through open-source coding, the physical web shows promise for a new way to connect with each other and the objects and devices that comprise people’s day-to-day lives.

[zipfinder] We enjoy many aspects of the “Internet of Things,” where we use the Internet to connect ordinary objects to us. This includes things like security cameras around our home to connecting the coffee pot to an app so you can turn it off from your desk at the office. Many “Internet of Things” ideas are still pipe dreams, so let’s look at three that are closer than most of us anticipate. 1. Personal Medical Devices The hard truth is that most of us get a quick diagnosis for our rashes and fevers online. We look up causes, symptoms, and treatments from behind the comforting glow of our computer screens. Rather than feel ashamed, I suggest we embrace the help of the Internet and get our home medical supplies connected. Consider the idea of a smart thermometer. Take your temperature with it, input your other symptoms, and it could give you a suggestion for what your illness might be. It could send the information directly to your personal physician who could give you a quick diagnosis and appropriate treatments. This same principle could apply to smart bandages, which could be wired to analyze a wound and suggest treatment methods. Still not convinced? Imagine you or a loved one have a medical emergency. While you wait for the ambulance to arrive, you are sending vital signs to the EMT’s who can analyze the situation as they travel. By the time the ambulance arrives, the EMT’s will already know what is wrong and will be prepared to treat the patient. The introduction of smart medical devices could revolutionize how we receive medical services. I love the idea of being able to check my vital signs from home and interacting with my physician without leaving the house. I could see smart medical devices being applied in the military and even in veterinary work. 2. Vehicles Cars are getting smarter every year, so I think it’s about time we had cars that offered more than just a GPS and a radio. If I am going to pay for an expensive vehicle, I shouldn’t have to still depend on my phone to check my email. We should be able to get into our cars and not feel disconnected from the outside world. If a car could check the weather online, it could automatically adjust the internal temperature before you get in. You could have your emails read to you, access your music library, use video chat, and get real-time GPS without ever having to touch your phone. Smart cars would not only connect to the Internet, but also to each other. As you drive along the highway you could view the profiles of the people who are driving alongside you—who they are, where they’re from, and where they’re going. I could see my morning becoming a social activity, making connections with people who have similar travel patterns as I do. While the concept of connected cars is exciting, implementing the technology can be complicated. Since the process for manufacturing vehicles takes many years, they have to anticipate the technology that will be used and needed. I would also be worried that these features could become a distraction for drivers, much like texting is today. Despite these setbacks, I would still find the marriage of automobiles and the Internet to be a welcome one. 3. Clothing The fashion industry is fast paced and practically unpredictable—just like the Internet. Who is to say that the next fashion trend isn’t smart clothing? A company called Ballantine already has a head start on the competition. The idea is to have a shirt that updates just as often as you update social media. If you post a photo to Instagram, the picture can show up on your shirt. You can display your recent tweets and current music tracks or you can simply customize the shirt design right from your smart phone. You could easily change the color of your hat, shoes, socks, scarf, and pants without having to ever go home and change your clothes. An even further application of smart clothing would be clothes that react to their surroundings. Your clothes could receive weather updates and adapt to the elements. If it’s hot, the stitching could loosen and improve air circulation to cool you off. If it’s cold or raining, your clothes could tighten to keep you warm and dry. Personally, I don’t find the idea of having my personal photos, tweets, and music tastes displayed to the world to be very attractive. However, having clothing that reacts to my surroundings sounds like a fashion trend I can get on board with. Having everyday objects connected to the Internet opens up a whole new world of possibilities—some more practical than others. Either way, the “Internet of Things” is expanding and will continue to change how we live. [zipfinder]
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