Should we really connect everything to the internet?

Should we really connect everything to the internet?

Nowadays, everything has a beacon in it.

The internet of things started with large companies – beacons were placed on manufacturing lines to gather “big data” on business processes.  Those same companies then brought beacons to our appliances – refrigerators and dishwashers started to tell us about their energy use.  Then the trend moved to wearables – the Fitbit, the Apple Watch, and other health monitors turned the beacon towards our physical activities.  Brick and mortar stores also got into the game, using beacons in retail outlets to generate targeted advertising based on our movements and phone activity.

What started as a trend has grown into an epidemic.  At last’s week’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, beacons were everywhere.  They were embedded in belts.  A “smart umbrella” promised to never be left behind.  A connected shower-head was touted as the answer to California’s drought.

Will this never end?  The beginning of the internet of things was both well-intentioned and ultimately effective – it was the massive return on investment of these initial adventures which got everyone thinking.  Yet now it seems like people are thinking about the internet of things a little too much.  Or rather, they aren’t thinking enough about why things should be connected to the internet.

It seems that the internet of things needs some organizing principles – ideas like Asimov’s “laws of robotics” which keep all of these beacons and data from getting too out of hand.  It’s not only about limiting beacons to the places they actually belong.  The increasingly large data flows from connected devices are bound to create problems with privacy and cybersecurity – neither of which have been adequately addressed in the flood of new devices.

What is to be done?  Here are a few potential ideas for corralling the internet of things:

  • The principle of proportionality:  Connecting a new device to the internet should result in a measurable increase in productivity which ultimately pays for the device over the course of its service life.  The more a device yields tangible gains, the more it justifies its initial cost.
  • The principle of relevance:  Internet connected devices should never produce data which is irrelevant, annoying, or intrusive.  Devices which are designed to change behavior should do so through positive reinforcement – never shaming.
  • The principle of privacy:  Connected devices should monitor patterns without monitoring the people who produce the patterns.  Data from beacons should be submitted only to the user or those whom the user specifically designates.
  • The principle of security:  A connected device should never offer a “back door” into another system.

What are your thoughts on principles for connected devices?