The publication of the recent report by the UK’s Royal Academy of Engineering and PETRAS on the internet of things (IoT) is timely in the context of the ongoing furore surrounding tech giants collecting, and indeed farming1, our data.

The Royal Academy of Engineering and PETRAS report follows on from the Blackett review — four years ago innovators were urged to dive into IoT without forgetting security which “should be considered at the beginning, and throughout the lifecycle of IoT applications”. Sadly, IoT is still not meeting the expectation of security and this report has revealed that holes in the security and interoperability remain in IoT: smart kettles that can be switched on remotely despite being empty, appliances that pass data to a mystery server, colour-changing smart lightbulbs that leak your passwords are just a few examples from the report.

We are so eager to entrust smart gadgets to save us money on fuel bills, keep an eye on the contents of the fridge (who else is watching your diet?), smart door locks so keys become obsolete — as long as we have our mobile phone2 — and now the increasingly common ‘AI’ home device to answer our questions, find recipes or play music through voice command alone.

I’m not sure we understand the implications of connecting everything up digitally. In this era of concern for our climate, we examine energy ratings, what about security ratings? Not to mention software warranties — how long will your smart tech be updated with security patches and software updates?

All of this connected smart tech requires us to have our WiFi/Bluetooth constantly on while our gadgets and appliances chatter to each other and the internet, and demand our attention. Health advice urges us not to have screens in our bedrooms: the blue light disrupts production of the sleep hormone melatonin. Stress management advice includes switching off mobile devices, or at least switching off notifications, to limit demands on our frazzled attention. Plus the suspicion that as we delegate our functional memory to the interweb, our brains become creakier.

So, should we be concerned that everything is on and listening or watching all the time? Will all the WiFi  signals zipping about scramble our neurons? Appliances must all have energy ratings, should we not demand security ratings and software warranties? Are we becoming intellectually incapable?

However, the pressing issue I would like to resolve is this: when I pop over to a friend’s home, is it polite to ask her power down her Amazon Echo* simply because I don’t wish my words to be recorded? And potentially emailed to a third party?

  • Other ‘smart’ digital assistants are available.

  1. By hooking into the natural reward-driven behaviours embedded in our monkey brains, Google, Facebook, Apple, eBay, Amazon, Microsoft, whoever owns Candy Crush… actively encourage users to engage more and more with their platforms and apps thereby adding to the data mountain collected about you — essentially not just collecting data but farming it. 
  2. Which is also used to pay for meals. And buy train tickets. And retains, or has access to, more of your personal data than you might imagine. 

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