Bright Future for Developers in the Internet of Everything

On September 22, 2015, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce hosted a daylong discussion on the Internet of Things (IoT).  Industry representatives, policymakers, and small businesses that are revolutionizing how we think about and use data attended the summit entitled The Internet of Everything:  Data, Networks, & Opportunities. Given the Alliance’s recent release of its Developer Insights Report where many of our members flagged IoT as being the most exciting “next wave” of technology, the event’s timing was perfect.

Image via jeferrb at pixabay

Image via jeferrb at pixabay

IoT is tackling many of today’s toughest problems. Innovators are finding ways to use it to boost education, combat hunger, curb pollution, fight crime, improve healthcare, and increase voter accessibility.  And while we often correlate IoT with the twenty-first century, it has actually been changing the way we live for decades, or, in the case of Zebra Technologies, since 1969. 

Anders Gustafsson, CEO of Zebra Technologies, explained that his company pioneered a cutting-edge approach to labeling and scanning that allows us to track packages in real-time.  Fast-forward 46 years, and this technology is so universal billions of people around the world are using it on a daily basis.

Now that the size and cost to place sensors has become easier and less expensive, Zebra and many companies like it are creating new products that improve our lives.  Bluetooth beacons and merchandise tagging are enhancing the retail experience by increasing the efficiency and productivity of retailers while making them more receptive to the needs of the consumer. Wi-Fi solutions are also improving things like public transportation, sparking new and efficient ways to get in and around large cities. IoT sensors are even impacting manufacturing and agriculture by decreasing input costs and increasing outputs and power generation. The Alliance and our members recognize this potential and have released several whitepapers on how IoT is revolutionizing practically every major facet of life.

While IoT does indeed possess untold potential, there are serious hurdles that need to be addressed. The widespread adoption of IoT technologies comes coupled with the collection of a large amount of data.  Panelists like Jules Polonetsky and Dr. Nicol Turner-Lee noted that IoT adoption could be hindered if privacy and data security concerns were not properly addressed. Industry heavyweights, like GE, said that companies are aware of these concerns and are responding accordingly through self-regulation efforts within their respective industries. Others, like Los Angeles Chief Technology Officer Peter Marx, encourage companies and government entities to avoid collecting personally identifiable information and, when necessary, encourage de-identification of data to minimize privacy fears.

Such aggregated and de-identified data could be a boost for developers seeking to build in the IoT space. While data from industrial IoT applications has traditionally been unavailable to developers, industry is working to make platforms more open so developers with a good idea can use data, originally intended for one purpose, in a new transformative way.  This means more opportunities for developers and more life-changing products for consumers.  

One early challenge will be how to inform consumers about data practices for traditionally unconnected devices i.e. a toaster or a refrigerator. Many companies are spearheading solutions to these problems. One such company, PrivacyCheq, released a service that enables manufacturers of IoT devices to easily disclose their data sharing and security practices to consumers using those products. 

Panelists and audience participants also identified government bureaucracy and regulation as a potential barrier to IoT adoption and success. In her opening remarks, Federal Trade Commissioner Maureen Ohlhausen noted that the government should practice regulatory humility and address consumer harms that result from IoT on a case-by-case basis and only when there is actual consumer harm. As such, regulation efforts within the IoT environment should be “prompt, responsive, and flexible.”

Commissioner Ohlhausen also pointed to the FTC’s recent decision in Nomi Technologies (a decision she dissented from) as an example of government overreach. “Indeed, this decision discourages companies from doing any more than the bare minimum on privacy. I believe such incentives will ultimately leave consumers worse off.”  The Alliance agreed in our own submission to the FTC regarding the Nomi case. In the field of IoT, similar government actions against companies for theoretical harms could hinder the growth of a trillion dollar industry.

From smart cities to more personalized services, IoT has the potential to benefit us all. As Mercatus Center Senior Research Fellow, Adam Thierer noted, widespread IoT adoption will only happen if we allow innovation, not fear, to thrive. That means the government should allow industry to tackle IoT issues incrementally through self-regulatory regimes, and to open data for developers who can contribute to IoT’s bright future.

Learn more about IoT by reading the Alliance’s whitepapers

Comments or questions? Email the Policy team at Policy@appalliance.org


Michelle Lease

Policy Counsel