Consumers are afraid of data-filled IoT

19th October 2017
Anna Flockett

Dimitrios Spiliopoulos shares his thoughts on IoT and how it is centred around data, which scares many consumers... 

"In the past few months I have attended many events, conferences and panels regarding Internet of Things (IoT) subjects, but I have also been discussing the topic with people who are not involved in IoT as professionals.

I have heard many different opinions about the opportunities from IoT, but also about the challenges from IoT deployments. The most of the conversations were about in IoT consumer market (B2C). Sometimes the debate was focusing only on the possible threats from IoT deployments (mainly from the academia and citizens), instead of exploring also the positive impact in the life of people and operations of companies. One of the challenges that is discussed a lot about IoT is the data privacy in the consumer market.

All these debates about data privacy and how IoT is creating the ‘Big Brother’ of our life, gave me the inspiration to write about this subject and share online my point of view so the people who are not very familiar with IoT and many good use cases to learn and get inspired. I am really interested in hearing also the opinion of other readers (experts or not in IoT).

We hear almost every day how the big companies like Amazon, Google, etc. can use our data and know exactly what, when and how we do it. It is true that with the increasing deployments of IoT projects more and more data will be collected from the public and private organisations so they can understand better our behaviour and our needs. For example, they can be able to know where we are, what we consume, how we spend our free time, our routine, our hobbies and even our fears. The idea that someone and especially a company is able to know everything about us, in the first thought can make us feel uncomfortable or even scared. Something that many people misunderstand though is that this data is unanimous (in the most cases).

Of course, it is not that there is no problem and there is no need for improvements. Particularly, the new EU regulation, General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which will become enforceable from May 2018, is going to fix many of the existing issues or holes in the regulation and implementation of the rules. The companies may face big challenges during the transition time until they are totally aligned to GDPR regulation, but this will benefit everyone. In contrast, in the US where each state has different regulation about the data privacy it is more complicated and challenging to achieve comprehensive data protection and privacy in a national level.

Despite the challenges in the consumer market due to the increased use of our personal data, let’s explore some of the opportunities that due to IoT capabilities our lives can change significantly. I will not mention IoT applications for easier shopping, or others like the ‘smart fridge’ which have damaged the perception of Internet of Things or Smart Home in the mind of the consumers (limited benefits in a very high price). I will analyse briefly applications in Healthcare, Family Life, Automotive and Cities where the benefits for the consumers are unlimited, only if their data can be used (combined with other sources).

Until today, the approach of doctors, hospitals and ourselves is reactive to the incidents that suddenly appear to our health. Unfortunately, this reactive approach cost many human lives and as well as billions in the national budgets. With IoT applications, such as remote healthcare monitoring, doctors or even mobile applications can identify proactively patterns which may later occur to a serious disease or health episode. Using specialised wearables and receiving the remote guidance from medical experts or even from applications which are using Artificial Intelligence (AI) algorithms can be life changing decision in the long term. Needless to say, that the trend of gamification which is based on the data-results of each user can motivate the users and remind them to keep their health routine daily. The impact of IoT in healthcare can improve the value that each stakeholder receives in the value chain of patient – doctor - government – insurance. This value is a result of the private data analysis.

Plenty of IoT products have been launched focusing on the relationship of young kids and parents, but also adult children and elder parents. Connecting the members of the family, collecting data and using this data for the benefit of the weak member as well as for the peaceful state of mind of the other family member can improve the life of many families. For example, there are several child trucker devices (like a watch) which can help the parents know where their kids are and also communicate with them when necessary. Similar concepts can be used also for the pets, with small and smart pet trackers. Besides, for the elder population there are many ways to monitor their status of life with simple ways (i.e. checking if they used the fridge or the water or if they went to the living room), without using any intrusive method, but only sensors and AI. In conclusion, this data that can be collected and used can benefit the users and their family (even if it is analysed by companies or apps).

We all hear about autonomous driving cars which are planned to drive in our cities in few years. There is no need to write about this amazing IoT application now, but I want to focus on what is happening now in automotive industry and insurance. First of all, the fact that all the new cars will have internet and sensors everywhere in the car will have as a result to be collected every day a huge amount of data for the driver behaviour and mechanical behaviour of the vehicle. This processed data can save lives and also improve the drive experience of the users. Particularly, when a driver knows that his/her behaviour on the roads is monitored by insurance companies (or even employers), it is statistically proven that in the most cases the drivers are more careful and drive in lower speed. Needless to say that insurance companies are ready to reward the good drivers with discounted premiums or other benefits. Besides, the sensors in the car are able to identify in advance mechanical problems or the need for maintenance. In other words, predictive maintenance and remote monitoring through advanced AI analytics can extend the life of the car and improve the total experience with the car, avoiding also accidents or uncomfortable situations. Again, the data that is collected and analysed can save lives and improve our life.

Every month we hear about new projects for Smart Cities. These are usually pilot projects which are functioning in silos instead of combining different data sources to create great value. Even at this early stage, the benefits for the citizens can be plenty. For example, when a local authority is deploying connecting sensors around the city to monitor the pollution level every moment during the day or to monitor the traffic congestion and vehicle movements in the city, all these data sets can be incredibly useful for the authorities (especially when they combine them) so they can take better decisions in the benefit of the citizens. Besides, as mentioned in the automotive examples, a city which uses advanced telematics in their public means of transports such as buses, trains, bikes, etc. can be able to proactively identify potential mechanical problems and take the necessary actions to fix any issue, avoiding any unexpected delay at the trip of the passengers. Besides, route and fuel optimisation are very easy to be implemented saving time and budget for the city and the citizens. In conclusion, without the ability to collect and analyse data due to IoT applications, authorities will not be able to serve their citizens better. Stay tuned and you will see many great city projects from 2018 in many countries.

To sum up, data privacy is one of the challenges that companies, governments and even citizens need to take care and find an optimum way to operate and leverage the opportunities of IoT. However, all these challenges should not scare the users and make them reluctant to new IoT products or projects. IoT combined with Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning can change our lives thanks to the analysis of the available data (mostly anonymously). Nowadays, this is a debate, but I am sure that in few years it will be a normal situation even in the mind of the most citizens. Stay tuned to what IoT can bring to our daily lives. In my next article, I may write about the responsibility of everyone in this new connected world."

The original article was published here on LinkedIn. 

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