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Privacy and Trust on the IoT


The European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation, which went into effect in 2018 and places disclosure requirements on companies aiming to unearth value in internet user information, has helped provide the public with some insight into online data collection and sharing.


The current generation of heavy internet users are digital denizens, creating curated online personas out of heaps of information uploaded to social media sites. These people are also generating detailed “digital exhaust” via the Internet of Things-connected devices with which they either knowingly or unknowingly engage. Unsavory services can expose digital identities and personal information via the Internet of Things.


Third parties with either good or bad intentions can create rich identities out of these data deposits, to use and abuse as they see fit. This issue actually stems from one of the biggest opportunities presented by the IoT: the sheer number of seamless connections proliferating among digital systems. Internet services promise wonderful things, yet users rarely take the time to think about the nature of the information required to accomplish their online goals.

 It is unusual for a user to actually read a website’s terms of service, and then carefully set his or her privacy controls, for example. Worse yet, there are almost never repercussions for organizations that fail to abide by their terms of service, or that negligently leak information. Better user education could help to reduce the exposure to risk.

Users still struggle to balance consent with utility when it comes to their interaction with the Internet of Things. This is in part because there are serious lingering questions about intent, policy, and procedures related to personally-identifiable information - and because platforms generally lack appropriate transparency on their data sharing and controls. This can be a result of a lack of technologically- and economically-aware governance, both in terms of creating adequate incentives for companies to implement consumer protections, and a result of ill-defined, or under-enforced repercussions for those who fail to design trustworthy systems.


Individual internet users and businesses have taken note of this lack of transparency and protection, and have in the past resisted the implementation of the IoT due to a lack of confidence in existing privacy measures and to a fear that terms and conditions can suddenly change without notice. In order for the Internet of Things to thrive, clear and user-centric policies regarding data collection, storage, and sharing must be developed. Appropriate governance could help ensure that maximum social and economic value is derived from this technology.

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Digital advancements have improved our lifestyles and our connectivity but have also increased the carbon footprint. Research shows that data centers are responsible for 2%-5% of greenhouse gas emissions globally, and only 28% of surveyed global IT decision-makers consider environmental issues in choosing data center technology. These issues have brought the need for a sustainable economy into focus.


Sustainability in IoT is a very important matter, though perhaps often forgotten underneath all the tech hype. Here’s how sustainability works in IoT:

There are two ways of looking at sustainability in IoT, which we have tied to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals: 1. how IoT solutions help improve quality of life and 2. what is the environmental footprint of these IoT devices. 


The Internet of Things, or “IoT,” surrounds us with networks of smart, web-connected devices and services capable of sensing, interconnecting, inferring, and acting. It is enabling the development of new products and business models, while creating ways for governments to deliver more useful services and better engage with the public.


Some of the most important issues related to IoT include technology architecture and standardization, safety and security risks, threats to privacy and trust, potentially missed opportunities for broad social benefits - and a need for responsible governance.


Companies must embrace digital transformation and its business-critical insights in order to pivot to more energy-efficient practices, use resources more responsibly and organize processes in ways that reduce waste. Here are 7 impactful ways companies can use IoT for sustainability: 

Smart Energy Management, Air Pollution Monitoring, Smart Waste Management, Fleet Management, Smart Water Management, Smart Farming, Cold Chain Monitoring

It is time to take action! Join our Tribe of Changemakers. Sign up for Virtual Conversations! 

Making the Rules for a Beneficial IoT


The rapid but relatively uncoordinated evolution of the Internet of Things, a technology that makes our essential machines and devices smarter by connecting them to the web, has led to decentralized systems that lack proper governance. The Internet of Things can truly benefit society if the right kind of governance is in place. In order for the IoT to realize its potential, these fragmented systems have to find a way to effectively interact with one another. This requires governance that takes stock of the broader context.

 While the IoT does benefit from a certain level of governance, it is not at a level that can foster sustained growth. There is technical governance in the form of standards, for example, yet over-standardization has led to as many problems as it has tried to solve by spawning infighting and incompatibility. One of the IoT’s biggest opportunities is therefore also one of its biggest challenges: diversity. One, single set of standards must be created that works equally well for dishwashers, autonomous cars, and smartwatches. The obstacles to this are considerable, however; every object, service, or network has its own design considerations, and within any given industry there may be several conflicting standards.   

There is therefore a serious need for both corporate and international governance in the world of the Internet of Things. The real challenges are to determine how much governance is too much, and to create the right incentives to bring all interested parties to the table. The IoT requires a significant amount of investment to be of real use, and as a result it is primarily being deployed in relatively wealthy, well-resourced places - even though it is the less well-to-do areas that truly stand to benefit from the efficiency improvement and cost savings the IoT can facilitate.


Ultimately, the Internet of Things could create societal value that aids progress in achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, established in 2015 to guide responsible global development until 2030. Mobility services powered by the IoT can reduce vehicle ownership, fuel consumption, and emissions, for example, while IoT-enabled monitoring of agriculture and supply chains can ensure that the food being produced is not wasted, and gets to the people who need it most. Anyone working to boost the adoption of the technology has to try to ensure that the IoT tide lifts all boats, rather than sending a tidal wave of disparity in the direction of the most vulnerable.

IoT Value Creation and Business Models


The IoT draws from multiple disciplines in order to build something greater than would be possible through siloed innovation; as a result of its deployment, technology providers can see increased hardware and service sales, marketing firms can grow through improved analytics, and consumers can directly benefit through improved health and wellness monitoring, or by reducing monitored fuel consumption. The Internet of Things can help a number of industries thrive.


The Internet of Things can improve efficiency and productivity as it connects everyday machines via the web - but it cannot create value out of nothing. It requires significant innovation, greater investment, and broader participation in every industry where it is poised to have an impact. While there is a continual need to innovate via the IoT, and to capitalize on its power to disrupt, its greatest potential is to create sustainable, shared value.


For example, smart thermostat providers can turn a profit through an initial sale and subsequent offering of data analytics, while the homeowner buying the device can reap monthly savings from smart energy management and improved consumption data. Meanwhile so-called conversational commerce conducted with businesses by that homeowner via devices on his or her walls and shelves, can drive retail sales and create ongoing customer relationships. 

Data analytics is another disruptive business model ingredient stemming from the IoT, where so-called “information exhaust” (the data footprints we leave online by using sites and services) can be turned into insights to develop better products or target ad campaigns. To be sure, though, only a balanced and transparent approach to making use of this data is appropriate.


Governments can meanwhile partner with technology companies to form public-private partnerships to draw capital investment needed to build infrastructure that utilizes the IoT to improve public services. An important part of drawing this investment is an ability to change conventional business models. For example, what was once a one-time sale can become a service models; for proof of this, look no further than to the IoT-fueled transition from selling individual vehicles, to car sharing, to shared mobility services, and eventually towards autonomous mobility services.


Vehicles that are connected via the Internet of Things can collect data about themselves, help dealerships proactively schedule required maintenance, and improve efficiency while streamlining auto manufacturers’ spare parts supply chains. Subscription-based services can also pair seemingly dissimilar technologies together to create more value both for the companies selling them and for the people buying them - for example, by coupling an internet-enabled smoke detector with a home security webcam.

Safety, Security and the IoT


The IoT’s breadth of scale and uses pose significant challenges by exposing large areas to unconventional attacks. Energy utilities, infrastructure, transportation, commerce, and peoples’ homes are all now interconnected and remotely addressable, creating an unprecedented potential for security breaches; the same interconnectivity that can create value also means that compromising a single node could trigger cascading social and economic effects.


Merging the digital and physical worlds via the Internet of Things creates new security challenges. The Internet of Things, which is stringing the world around us together via the web, is melding the digital and the physical realms in a way that creates threats that have not been anticipated by conventional cyber security systems.

Not all security challenges are obvious, and the unintended consequences of connectivity are always possible. For example, a smart home makes life easier not just for its occupants, but for criminals as well. A voice-activated home assistant paired with a smart, IoT-connected lock is a great way to open a door without having to get up from the couch; it is also a great means for a thief to simply shout through an open window while homeowners are away in order to let himself in. Authentication, or an ability to clearly identify and trust both digital and physical data sources, is a critical when developing the reliable, real-time systems that make the Internet of Things valuable.

What would once have simply been thought of as a safety oversight can now be a potent weapon, if placed in the wrong hands. As a result, security must be integrated into system design from the start. The days of trusting “security through obscurity,” or relying on a general ignorance of the flaws in a system, are numbered - as the advent of the IoT has now placed the blueprints of formerly inaccessible systems all over the internet.


Systems must be hardened against worst-case scenarios and upgradable over the air, even if it means increased costs. Comprehensive safety education for everyone is therefore essential. A so-called “Cognitive Firewall” is one method of scalable, upgradable protection; it forms a self-learning system, capable of placing the commands it receives in context, and allowing only safe commands to pass from the cloud to a device for execution. Many people are unwitting participants in the Internet of Things, potentially unaware, for example, that their personal data can be exposed to the world by means of a coworker’s unsecured “smart” light switch.

Architecture and Standards

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The Internet of Things requires thoughtful architecture and standard selection. The Internet of Things, which is rapidly connecting everything from doorbells to dams to the web, requires scalable, future-proof, and cost-effective architectural choices in order to thrive.


There is no one-size-fits-all solution for IoT architecture - whether it is in relation to sensing, communication, analytics, or actuation (turning an electric signal into a physical action). By building on already-established reference architectures, companies and governments can develop standards with robust interfaces, and ensure healthy environments capable of addressing performance and safety issues.


However, two specific models have become most common; the first is the concept of digital mirroring (sometimes referred to as Digital Twins), where real-world physical objects are duplicated as purely digital objects. These digital objects are able to interact with the physical world, with other digital duplicates, and with computing services - often using the cloud as a platform. Cloud services can in turn accommodate massive increases in computing power, which can be used to analyse large amounts of data or to create “Cognitive Firewalls” that protect physical systems against digital misdeeds.

 A second approach to an architecture for the Internet of Things relies on “edge,” or “fog” computing, which splits processing duties between responsive local computers and the cloud (where more heavy-duty, latency-insensitive analytics can take place).

Dividing up processing like this enables devices and services to provide more prompt responses or perform more data-intensive analysis, albeit at a cost of greater power consumption.


While emerging architectures and standards are helping to reduce the fragmentation that plagued early IoT systems, care must be taken to select and develop the right options - because the technical decisions made today will lock the Internet of Things into long-term, make-or-break trajectories, and over-standardization could lead to “vendor lock-in” limiting options and use.


The importance of architecture cannot be overstated; they define the points and interfaces where standards can take hold. Developing a comprehensive set of IoT standards can in turn address networking, communication, and data handling, and can also help to improve overall interoperability (the ability of devices and services from different vendors to work together, share data, and improve utility and value).

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