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2/14/2014
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The Intrusiveness of Things: Will IoT Go Too Far?

The Internet of Things has great potential, but will our lives be governed by a multitude of tiny sensors?

The Internet of Things (IoT) is getting ready to devour our lives. IDC estimates that there will be an installed base of around 212 billion “things” by 2020. Businesses are looking to IoT as a source of new revenue; just this week, Cisco’s John Chambers predicted that IoT will be a $19 trillion market. Meanwhile, the ubiquity of smart phones and the emergence of wearable computing devices means consumers are poised both to consume IoT data and contribute to the deluge of information that can be transmitted and collected.

While there are plenty of useful applications for IoT, such as collecting data on railroad car parts to monitor wear and tear, there are lots of uses that may sound good in isolation, but when combined create increased noise, distraction, and surveillance.

This January at CES, much of the talk centered around “smart” appliances such as Internet-connected refrigerators and talking washing machines. For instance, LG launched a communications app called HomeChat that lets you keep in touch with your washer and dryer via text message and find out how much beer is left in the fridge.

If texting with your appliances isn’t enough, how about texting with your food? A story from the Daily Mail tells of new computer chips that are designed to be placed inside packaged food to alert consumers when the food is nearing its “use by” date. According to the story, “The chips could also potentially alert the owner by sending them a text message telling them they need to eat the food.”

The impetus behind such a scheme is to reduce food waste; according to the story, seven million tons of food gets thrown away every year in the U.K. alone. That’s a shocking amount of food, but I’m not sure the solution is to manufacture billions of disposable computer chips to remind us to eat that bag of spinach at the bottom of the crisper drawer.

IoT will creep into other areas of our lives as well. According to a recent story on InformationWeek, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration plans to “draft rules covering the implementation of vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communication technology for crash avoidance.” The idea is for cars to repeatedly broadcast their speed and position to other vehicles, thus improving situational awareness and preventing crashes.

I’m all for safety, but as the article notes, what happens when municipal governments or insurance companies decide they want to collect this data? Are we going to get automated speeding tickets? Watch our insurance rates go up?

IoT has amazing potential, but if we’re not careful, our lives are going to be governed by tiny sensors that watch, nag and report. I planned to write more about this topic, but I have to go now because there’s some lettuce that wants a word with me.

Prepare for the Internet of Things revolution with a workshop dedicated to IoT at Interop Las Vegas. This vendor-agnostic, technology-focused summit will bring together industry leaders to provide insights into the impact of the IoT and discuss the challenges and opportunities for the IT community. Register here.

Drew is formerly editor of Network Computing and currently director of content and community for Interop. View Full Bio

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