‘Internet of Things’ hits speed bump Comment on this post ↓
May 24th, 2014 by Warren Swil

Connecting billions

of appliances will come

with hidden costs

The web-connected Nest smoke detector was recalled this week because of a defect.

The race towards a future where billions of mundane appliances like milk cartons and alarm clocks are connected to the web recently got a wake up call from an authoritative new study.
Many experts responding to a Pew Research Center survey pointed to unforeseen problems raised by the looming Internet of Things, though the tone is overwhelmingly upbeat.
Among them: loss of privacy and gadgets no one knows how to fix.
As if to underline the problems, the iconic internet-connected Nest home smoke detector was recalled on Wednesday because of a defect. The manufacturer was bought by Google earlier this year.

We first noted that “in effect the planet has grown a central nervous system,” in Internet of Things poised to take over your life last September.

The Pew study of the Internet of Things raises some cautionary flags. Click image to enlarge.

The new report from Pew The Internet of Things Will Thrive by 2025 was assembled from the responses to a canvassing of  experts – technology builders and analysts. More than 1600 responded to the question:
As billions of devices, artifacts, and accessories are networked, will the Internet of Things have widespread and beneficial effects on the everyday lives of the public by 2025?
“Eighty-three percent of these experts answered “yes” and 17 percent answered “no,” the study found.
However, “many see a mixed picture, where the technology advances that add to life also create problems.”
Respondents were asked to elaborate on their answer and about half a dozen themes emerged.
The second theme addressed in the report is the same as one we raised nine months ago: concern about privacy and people’s ability to control their own lives.
“If everyday activities are monitored and people are generating informational outputs, the level of profiling and targeting will grow and amplify social, economic, and political struggles,” the study notes.
The quotes from participants are at times quite alarming.
“There will be absolutely no privacy, not even in the jungle, away from civilization,” wrote Nick Wreden of the University of Technology Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur. “I don’t like this, but people have shown over and over again that they are willing to trade away their souls for a ‘$1 off’ coupon.”
College professor Peter R. Jacoby wrote: “The effects will be widespread but pernicious. We might as well inject ourselves into the Internet of Things. By 2025, we will have long ago given up our privacy. The Internet of Things will demand — and we will give willingly — our souls.”
Justin Reich, a fellow at Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society, said: “There will be new ways for people to connect, as well as new pathways towards isolation, misanthropy, and depression. Everything that you love and hate about smartphones will be more so.”

The CNBC story on the recall of the Nest home smoke detector. Click image to enlarge.

In the Wired magazine report on the Pew survey Why Tech’s Best Minds Are Very Worried About the Internet of Things Klint Finley wrote:
“The Internet of Things is coming. And the tech cognoscenti aren’t sure that’s a good thing.
“… most of the experts warned of downsides as well. Security was one of the most immediate concerns.
“Most of the devices exposed on the internet will be vulnerable,” wrote Jerry Michalski, founder of the think tank REX. “They will also be prone to unintended consequences: they will do things nobody designed for beforehand, most of which will be undesirable.”
This was part of another theme noted by respondents: There will be complicated, unintended consequences.
Howard Rheingold, a pioneering Internet sociologist and self-employed writer, consultant, and educator, responded, “We will live in a world where many things won’t work, and nobody will know how to fix them.”
As if to punctuate this point, one of the most high-profile web-enabled devices of recent times, the Nest smoke detector, suffered a humbling recall this week.
It was reported May 21 on CNBC in Google’s Nest recalls 440,000 fire alarms shipped in U.S.
“Google’s Nest Labs is recalling 440,000 smoke detectors, according to a U.S. government notice on Wednesday that provides the first public revelation of how many of the smart home appliances have shipped since sales started in November.
“Nest, which Google acquired earlier this year for $3.2 billion, shipped 440,000 of its smoke alarms in the United States between Nov. 15 and the beginning of April, according to figures contained in a notice by the Consumer Product Safety Commission.”
Nest halted sales of the smoke alarms a month ago after it discovered a defect that could cause users to turn it off unintentionally.
There is no stopping the onslaught of devices connected to the web. Ten times as many “things” are expected to be online than people in six years, from wearable computers like Google Glass to milk cartons and refrigerators.
But the interconnectivity of everything carries with it some not-too-obvious costs. Data breaches at major internet firms like E-Bay and Target are becoming commonplace. The consequences of such losses will become more serious when so many more parts of our lives are stored in the cloud.
The Pew study should be required reading for everyone rushing to connect every device in the home for a marginal increase in convenience.

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2 Responses  
  • Pierre Garenne writes:
    May 25th, 2014

    One point that does not appear to be sufficiently emphasized is the difference in the quality of experience and its feedback: to what extent and in what way will the feeling of a sea breeze on our faces be transformed when it is permeated with predigested digital criteria, as for example, by the way in which omnipresent digital photos have both limited and possibly enhanced our ways of seeing and the content of what we see (to the exclusion of my friends’ summer vacation photos and today’s grotesquely invasive selfies). How does this affect our sensations, (we by-and-large see what we are looking to see: check our eye movements on entering a room for example). As a corollary, to what extent will billions of observers/users be limited to what the latest technological innovations choose to emphasize; idem for the potential for abuse of power by manufacturers / inventors with social objectives /applied government surveillance programs…
    In some respects this echoes the changes in human relations in the 19th – 20th – 21st C movement from the country to the city. We moved from limited face-to-face interaction to vastly increased commercially and/or politically motivated interaction and/or social group interaction (fancy religions for example, became a critical palliative to the emotional disarray resulting from rapid social change and depersonalization). But the potential for manipulation, indoctrination and abuse of power will be far greater and is already significant. It can give us greater freedom and greater imagination, but can also be used to control us. Not only can all our digital/numeric activities be used to enhance certain aspects of our lives, thoughts and ways of seeing, but they will, unless we as individuals acquire the means to neutralize or control them them, also be used to manipulate and control us with the aim of achieving other highly dubious objectives, hackers and Snowdens of this world notwithstanding.

    • Warren writes:
      May 25th, 2014

      Very thoughtful post, thank you.
      Yes, it is a double-edged sword indeed.
      The convenience offered by connectivity is balanced by the surrender of privacy and control. The machine mediated experience of reality is nothing like the experience itself. The potential for manipulation and abuse is enormous, yet very few are even aware of it.
      Hopefully awareness will grow before it is too late.

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