IoT not A-OK? Ask these tech experts

The Internet of Things is supposed to be a good idea. Pervasive connection to everyone and everything in your life, never being out of reach for even a millisecond, constantly bombarded with messages from the toaster, your glasses, the hubcaps…

Maybe being always in touch, everywhere, isn’t everyone’s idea of utopia. But so far the possible negatives as we have imagined them have tended to be mainly annoyances. Now, however, it’s starting to look as if the drawbacks could more significant.

In a new report from the Pew Research Center, technology gurus are raising the alarm about some of the downside of IoT. The research, as reported by, suggests that the pervasively wired world could have negative effects on security, privacy, efficiency and even social inequality. The research report is the culmination of a decade’s work on the future of the Internet.

“We had a lot of warnings, a lot of people pushing back,” Janna Anderson, co-author of the research, said. More than 1600 respondents said that in addition to the obvious benefits – new, easier interfaces, medical, environmental and business applications, etc. – there were some serious concerns., with security topping the list.

“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.”

The straightforward complexity could be another problem, with many devices not being used properly, not working properly, and waiting to be fixed.

The IoT could also promote a more unequal society, with developing nations falling behind because they can’t afford the type and amount of technology required, even though they stand to benefit the most from IoT’s environmental benefits. It could also cause a deeper digital divide on the home front, with people who can’t or won’t take part shut out of more and more daily activities. “What happens when you need a particular device to pay for items at your local convenience store?” writes Klint Finley.

Needless to say there are also privacy concerns as employers acquire technologies increasingly able to monitor employee activity. “The danger will be in loss of privacy and a reduction of people into numbers: the dark side of the quantified self,” wrote Andrew Chen, a computer information systems professor at Minnesota State University.

Peter R. Jacoby, an English professor at San Diego Mesa College, put it this way: “By 2025, we will have long ago given up our privacy. The Internet of Things will demand – and we will give willingly – our souls.”

There were positive notes too, of course. And as with any predicted technology boom, the IoT may simply fail to live up to the hype. But if it does become the Next Big Thing, the extremes – good and bad – may be hard to predict.

“I’m not sure that moving computers from people’s pockets (smartphones) to people’s hands or face will have the same level of impact that the smartphone has had,” wrote Justin Reich, a fellow at Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society. “But things will trend in a similar direction. Everything that you love and hate about smartphones will be more so.”

Andrew Brooks
Andrew Brooks
Andrew Brooks is managing editor of IT World Canada. He has been a technology journalist and editor for 20 years, including stints at Technology in Government, Computing Canada and other publications.

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