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Privacy and the Internet of Things

What are the privacy aspects relating to the IoT?

Geoff Mulgan - Chief Executive Officer, Nesta

Geoff Mulgan

Over the last two decades, we’ve generated a huge amount more of a trace: a digital trace. Every time we move around, our mobile phone tells many companies where we are. Every time we buy something, we’re leaving a trace behind, and cities like London or Shenzhen in China have huge numbers of CCTV cameras as well, which are picking up your movements.

Most people feel quite anxious when they discover just how much information they are leaving behind, and yet there’s a huge advantage to be gained from this collecting of data, the sharing of data, the cross-mining of data to offer people services in better ways, to reduce crime and so on. My guess is in the next 10 years we will need almost a new social contract around that data.

People will need more assurance that it is being used fairly, that their privacy isn’t being infringed, that the data they generate isn’t just being sold by another company and they’re seeing no benefit from it. Otherwise we’ll get a backlash, and then we’ll fail to get the full benefits of this next generation of technologies, which allow a huge advance in social co-ordination, the effectiveness of how our cities run, but I don’t think it can be done secretly. I don’t think it can be done on the sly, hoping that people won’t notice what’s happening. And already, you can see many, many emerging signs of the scale of the potential backlash, and the smart companies realize this, and realize that we have to have an open dialogue which shows people the benefits they can gain in exchange for perhaps giving up some of their personal privacy.

Renate Samson - CEO Big Brother Watch

Renate Samson

Right now is a very interesting time in the privacy debate, particularly here in the UK as well as in the rest of the world, as there are continuing calls for new legislation to monitor individuals’ communications in the fight against National Security threats. Obviously that’s hugely important…

As we move into a completely connected society, there will be implications on the economic wellbeing of our country as well as all the other countries around the world, so it’s quite important that we now find the balance between privacy and security to make the balance correct, so that we can continue to move forward but also live in a very safe society.

So, right now, with regards to the Internet of Things we’re finding ourselves in a very interesting place, where, as I say, as the Internet connects everywhere it’s very important that when we connect with all the pieces of technology we have choice about how much information we’re prepared to hand over and how much we’re prepared to retain for ourselves. It’s very important as we go forward that that choice is made implicit to the consumer…implicit to the user, and not taken for granted by any Internet of Things company.

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This article is from the free online course:

The Internet of Things

King's College London