Of course we all know what the Internet is, but have you heard of The Internet of Things (IoT)? According to this handy infographic, by 2008 we saw more devices connected to the internet than people, and by 2011 just twenty households generated more internet traffic than the entire internet did in 2008.
Think about that for a minute.
Data in Astounding Amounts
We’re talking massive amounts of data (petabytes, zettabytes, and beyond) continuously created, uploaded, managed, stored, processed, shared, analyzed, and more. All of this data is collected not by people; it’s collected automatically, by billions of sensors. The term sensors can refer to anything, really. There are sensors that track information in your car, sensors that track environmental information, GPS sensors, and sensors and smart chips that track all kinds of geospatial information, too. This also refers to data compiled from social networks like Facebook, data from e-commerce traffic and RFID data, scientific data, military data, medical data, data on utility usage, even cookies and profiles and archived text, photos and video from the vast history of the entire internet.
These sensors include anything and everything that tracks information about a person, place or thing – and the amount of information collected is growing at a staggering rate and the methods for processing that data have become increasingly fast. It originally took scientists 10 years to decode the human genome. In 2010, they could do it in a week. 2012? Just a few hours.
Our Everyday Lives – Changed Forever
For individuals, this means major, fundamental changes in the ways we live our day-to-day lives. The changes begin when this data is used to communicate information to interconnected devices we use every day.
Imagine this is a typical day: freeway data collected by the local DoT is automatically fed to your alarm clock, which then goes off 15 minutes early, so you won’t be late to an important meeting. While you’re at the meeting, your kids drink all the milk. Your fridge transfers this information directly to your car, which then reminds you to stop to buy milk, offering several possible stops on your way home, noting both location and the price of milk at each.
This interconnected network of intercommunicating devices is what is now known as The Internet of Things. What was formerly only a concept is becoming an everyday reality for all of us.
Developing Data Rights
As we transition to this increasingly connected world, some very important questions must be addressed. Namely, what are the rights of individuals in regards to this data collection?
We cannot allow sensors to track data without individual knowledge or consent. Plus, individuals should have access to the information being tracked. I should be able to know what data is collected from my activities. I should be able to download and store that data. I should be able to easily port my data from one place to another, and in a format that is machine-readable.
Being that this reality is a new and developing trend, now’s the time to address individual data and data privacy rights. At the forefront of the movement is Europe’s COSM, which is both working to create and connect the IoT. In tandem, the European Commission for the Digital Agenda is also in the process of exploring and developing these rights. One idea is the creation/availability of a sort of “data kill switch” that will wipe all public information about a specific individual off the internet, especially in situations where this person’s rights or safety is compromised.
Thankfully, there are many security professionals concerned with the abundant availability of all this personal data. As with all cases of individual rights, the public needs to be aware of exactly what’s happening here. Private companies are beginning to amass huge amounts of personal information and using that data to analyze everything from individual behavior patterns to social trends.
This is why individual data rights must be a priority topic here in the United States, as well as in the rest of the world. Legislation here doesn’t work fast enough to keep up with the ever-changing technology, though some recent advancements are promising, such as President Obama’s recent Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights.
For now, individuals can be proactive by actually reading those pesky license agreements before clicking Yes, so you are, at minimum, aware of the data that website or software is collecting, and how that company may use that data. Business owners should put policies in place that detail what employee information is stored and how that information is used, if anything because it’s just plain unethical to track employee information without consent. Businesses may argue that such policies could compromise company property – but, in my opinion, a civil society is built on the expectation that there’s a certain level of trust and transparency.
So, while the Internet of Things will surely advance our lives in a multitude of incredible and fascinating ways, it’s important that we’re aware of the implications of this transition as it affects our rights and privacy as individuals.