Protecting privacy and promoting inclusion with the 'Internet of Things'
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To technologists and innovators, the "Internet of Things" (IoT) represents a world of exciting new benefits that will solve important technical and social problems. To critics, IoT represents a world of pervasive surveillance, with toys that spy on kids and microphone-enabled devices recording and retaining our most personal data. As a think tank focused on helping chief privacy officers of companies both large and small navigate privacy challenges, as well as advocating for ethical data practices in support of emerging technologies, we believe they are both right. From traffic management to healthcare improvements, there is a wide range of possible benefits that will be derived from information networks created by the IoT. There is the potential to improve personal safety, improve public safety, increase consumer convenience, provide environmental benefits and promote business innovation. However, if we do not have the right guiding principles or necessary privacy safeguards, consumers will lose trust in the evolving technologies. We need to address security and privacy issues to ensure that the IoT achieves its full potential.


Recognizing this need, Samsung recently hosted a conference bringing together leaders from both government and industry to discuss the future of IoT. In his opening remarks, Oh-Hyun Kwon, vice chairman and CEO at Samsung Electronics, emphasized that the conversation around the possibilities of IoT should shift from focusing on smart homes, offices and factories, to smart communities, smart nations and a smarter world with better living standards for everyone, everywhere.

In comments we filed recently for input into a new Department of Commerce green paper on shaping the future of IoT, we discussed ways IoT technologies are improving the day-to-day quality of life for people with low income, people with disabilities and traditionally underserved populations, among others. For example:

  • The OrCam is a wearable video camera that is designed for the visually impaired, translating text to audio in real time;
  • The Dot, the world's first braille smartwatch, features a series of dull pins that rise and fall at customizable speeds and allows users to read text messages and e-books;
  • The Ring, a connected doorbell and home security solution, alerts users to motion as soon as it is detected, so they can remotely monitor their door;
  • Some airports, like the Miami International Airport, have rolled out programs that use beacons to help users find the correct gate and send push notifications for restaurant and store deals when travelers are walking around; and
  • M2M technology, integrated with new payment platforms, is expanding access to credit by enabling two new payment methods: pay-as-you-go (PAYG) asset financing, which allows consumers to pay for products over time, and prepaid, where consumers pay for services on an as-needed basis.

It is important that we do not lose sight of the broad hope that IoT technology will not simply be more gadgets for the affluent, but also a platform for improving quality of life for the traditionally underserved. As government policymakers and regulators examine, understand and embrace emerging IoT technologies, they must encourage strategies that benefit everyone, while at the same time apply commonsense privacy protections that build trust in IoT technologies to help ensure that consumers enjoy the full benefits of IoT sensors and devices.

Polonetsky is CEO of the Future of Privacy Forum, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank that seeks to advance responsible data practices. Follow him on Twitter @JulesPolonetsky.