BBC Research & Development

The ethics of personal data?

The ethics of data in the era of the quantified self and the internet of things

The physical internet?

The promise and heartbreak of the internet of things: could the devices tell us more about ourselves than we would want?

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Transcript: The physical internet

What is the Internet of Things?

Glyn - There are about twenty five plus definitions of what the internet of things are and you ask you know, twenty five people and you get twenty six definitions of what it is.

Alexandra - I think the potential of IOT emerged when technology was cheap enough that you may want to put it anywhere.

Glyn - The most interesting thing for smart fridges and things like that are devices that will turn themselves off and them turn themselves on again. It makes no difference to the fridge whatsoever and it means that we can manage our energy really well.

Adrian - More and more things that we do are being kind of, tracked and measured and mostly that’s, that’s a good thing.

Glyn - Which is wonderful in a happy, wonderful world where no one does anything evil and if someone, somewhere in the world wanted to do evil (unclear) is a potential problem area that a lot of people don’t seem to be looking at at all.

Aleks - We forget that behind those things, those objects, those technologies, there are still individuals, there are still people who are creating the algorithms, who are creating the systems, who are creating the logics that are communicating with one another.

Alexandra - You could make a good case for technology to be imbedded in everything we know. What kind of technology it is and what does it do, and what purpose does it serve is always the next question

Should the device tell you that it is doing something?

Alexandra - There’s almost no regulation around what obligations anybody has in that chain to do anything about actually advertising that this device is either constantly, or semi constantly or at whatever rate, capturing data.

Aleks - If we had a status life for every single time that light over there was communicating with that lift, or that thing over there was talking to that thing at the bank. If we had a status every time we would just be completely frantic and totally dizzy with inputs.

Adrian - What is it doing, what is it reporting back, is it reporting back, who is it reporting to? And those are interesting questions to try to unpick.

Doug - I absolutely think these machines should be public, making them publically visible when they are recording certain moments.

Alexandra - You may or may not want to engage with that particular technology for a very long time, so is it something you can switch off, is it something you can go to a URL somewhere and sort of, delete the data that’s been captured.

Adrian - There’s a risk that if you have, legislate too early almost, you end up kind of hampering ways that it could develop.

Should each device have a Kill Switch?

Glyn - Normally I hear kill switches proposed by politicians and then I see engineers either rolling their eyes or crying because they realise they’re actually serious.

Alexandra - I think it’s relatively easy to kill most things because quite a lot of these technologies rely on battery power.

Adrian - Take away the, the energy juice and they’ll, they’ll kind of, they’ll die. And I would hope that, that you’d still have a functional device.

Doug - If I had a health condition and I didn’t want other people to know, then sure yeah, I might opt in for a kill switch feature.

Glyn - There is a variation on the kill switch which is more like a sleep or a suspend mode, which is normally talked about in the mobile phone area but you can see it going into other areas of expensive pieces of kit that could go walkies.

Doug - You should almost as a user, opt into whether you want that device to have a kill switch because that’s quite a strong request, that’s quite a strong feature. There’s times where I might want a kill switch on my phone but you know, that’s a momentary thing.

Brian - What one person’s malware is today might be someone else’s propaganda tomorrow. And in certain regimes and the political atmosphere, if they don’t like a particular type of book, or they don’t like the message a book is, or author, or it’s too extremist, for them to be able to reach into my Kindle or my phone or my computer and turn this off, I think is a very bad thing. It’s dangerous, slippery slope.

What are the implications for the second hand market?

Alexandra - I can definitely envisage a second hand market for pre-owned IOT devices simply because it doesn’t make ecological sense to not build one.

Jason - The second hand value of a lot of these devices is going to be quite limited, especially if the cloud service is removed and there’s plenty of examples of that. Some of the music DRM services that have been offered, I can think of two off the top of my head that have closed down and said, please move your music onto a recordable CD to strip the DRM off it because we’re going to take our servers offline and you won’t be able to play your music after this point.

Alexandra - So if you give a little lamp away on eBay it should be able to tell you, oh you’re the third owner of this little lamp in a very you know, simple way it doesn’t reveal that much information but it gives you a sense that you’re participating in a shared experience in some way.

Adrian - And then when the second hand device gets connected to the network, you need to have an onboarding process that kind of goes, oh this is a new device like, what are you, you know, we don’t know who you are, we’re going to have to work out who you are and what you want to do with this device and how you kind of like, bring it into our service.

Glyn - If it goes on to somebody else, they continue to collect data (unclear) new person and their big rush is to identify who that new person is.

Jon - If we don’t have rewrite and execute, we have no second hand market, no recycling. Great if you’re somebody who doesn’t care about that and you just want more and more consumerism, everybody buy new, buy new, buy new. If there’s no make to amend culture, and that’s been taken away with us because of this digital kind of, lock in, we’re in trouble.