Design for privacy at the Annual Internet of Things Europe 2011

I attended the Annual Internet of Things Europe conference in Brussels last week. The conference gives an overview of the current state of the development towards an Internet of Things where not only computers and mobile phones are connected to the world wide network, but also all kinds of other objects become part. And just like computers make the Internet by being the hubs, this will happen in the Internet of Things where object are hubs in the network. This generates lots of new challenges and opportunities. The conference discussed both societal as technical consequences with an important role for standards and enabling technologies. I was invited to a panel and talk on the way this developments influence the design of online services ecosystems as we make them within

In my short presentation I draw some conclusions that could also found in some other presentations. For me the Internet of Things should loose its focus on the technology and focus on the services it enhances. To put it stronger; there is no use in designing for the Internet of things, services will become more and more smart by the abilities of the data in the cloud. In a earlier post I put like this:

First of all. The concept of the Internet of Things (IoT) is all about smart objects. Just like a lot of other technological developments, the difference is not made by the technology itself, but by what it accomplishes. And for the IoT is that the fact that object will be smart and social. Using the knowledge available in the cloud and the context awareness of the object makes it a smarter object. All the examples, how cheesy there are sometimes, are on smartness. See for instance the examples in this article of BBC from last week.

Second. Smart objects will operate in their own ecosystems. Think of your car that will be collecting different data from stream it needs to be smarter. Or your smart scale creates its own ecosystem with other fitness related products like a Fitbit. Those ecosystems are valuable on its own, and the smart objects need a ecosystem to be valuable. Building these kind of ecosystems are vital for the success of a smart object. The ecosystems are not necessarily interconnected. To obtain differentiation, the ecosystems will be even more closed than expected.

Thirdly. We are in a transformation, and we will for a long time. Some things are smart, some are not. It is like the development of a car, or the television; it will take years for the whole system to change. Therefore isolated value per object-ecosystem combination is key for success. But to make these valuable it is important to have a system to connect the objects to ourselves. We need a hub to receive all the sensors.

In the presentation of Usman Haque, one of the front-runners with Pachube in making the Internet of Things a valuable service, a graph shows the tipping point we are heading. In his view we are are leaving the period of Machine to Machine communication into an Internet of Things. He proposes that the success of this development will depend on the open data. Like the example of the sensors during the earthquake in Japan that were made available by the people themselves and were more valuable than all the government stuff together.


Another interesting statement came from Mike Nelson. As privacy is one of the hot topics he addresses this by a clear definition of the concept of transparency. We should focus on giving all transparency to the user in exchange for the data he shares. Something I also stated in my presentation; designing for privacy means a flexible approach to layers of privacy. In essence an Internet of humans will emerge, something that was little addressed during the conference.

As in the kick-off (video-)presentation by Nelie Kroes addresses a privacy by design and the right on silence of the chips. The European Union makes a shift there by not demanding a demolishing of the chips in goods as soon they leave the shops, but demands for control with the user to control the transparency. It is important to have the right to be forgotten.

An important conclusion from different sessions was that regulations will the works the best if they emerge from actual services that are developed. Not everyone agree on that, some find regulations still a starting point, but I go for the emerging model. As I put it in my own presentation; I don’t think the Internet of Things is the center for the grow, but the enhanced smartness that we can get. Products and services will use the smart data as material. And companies will need to give the control of the data use with the clients to be a trustful brand.

As Alexander Bassi said; the Internet of Things is also triggering new question on ownership and consumption. I was not the only one to mention the Greenwheels example; we grow into a access based economy, where IoT makes a pay-what-you-use system possible on an individual level. Something that triggers new challenges.

In my presentation I gave a preview of the results of the survey we did together with Council, Latitude and Machina Research. It turned out that the respondents saw privacy as the biggest concern, but see a lot of possibilities in creating a more efficient and comfortable life with the Internet of Things. The answers shows that the Internet of Things is not a total distant concept and users will drive the growth of IoT, just like Pilgrim Beart showed in his presentation on the AlertMe platform.

We are creating normal products in super products as Inaki Vazquaz put it. In the Internet of Things we have dual business models based on different combinations of objects and services.

dual business model

Christian Nold put it sharp with his three elements that are important for these new services. Affect, proximity and system thinking. Systems that encourage face-2-face contact, that are used by more than 5 people and are designed by at least 20 people. The hackspace is an important way to develop the new services from a making culture.
It turns out there is a some dispute on the way standards should be developed. Duncan Wilson plead for enough standards to be able to develop stuff for homesense that is compatible and future proof. You need an API to make propriety stuff relevant.

The last session looked to the radio spectrum field. An important technical problem if the spectrum will be congested with all the new data of objects. Contextual data from individual objects, or sensed data from sensors, or status information of actuators from the new grids. Spectrum sharing between different IoT communities could solve the problem.

Overall you see the emerging regulation is important. Personal data protection should be garantueed, privacy is the hottest issue. We should know that privacy has different layers and transparency is the recipe to achieve that. Privacy by design, learn by doing is way to go. The conclusion of Rob van Kranenburg at the end of the conference was that the IoT field has all the wagons are on track, but can use some extra boost to get them running.

Find my slides here.

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I am a design director at Structural. I curate and organize ThingsCon Netherlands and I am chairman of the Cities of Things Foundation. Before I was innovation and strategy director at tech and innovation agency INFO, visiting researcher and lab director at the Delft University of Technology coordinating Cities of Things Delft Design Lab.

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