By Gary Shapiro
The personal, economic and social benefits of connected devices, referred to collectively as the Internet of Things (IoT), is enormous. A recent Federal Trade Commission report ticked off dozens of examples of IoT in action, from smart insulin pumps that can track and monitor vitals, to electricity meters that wirelessly detect problems with home appliances, to connected cars that notify drivers of slick road conditions.
These innovations and countless others will enable us to worry less about our inanimate “things” and more about the living creatures around us. Recently, the House Commerce, Manufacturing and Trade Subcommittee held a hearing to discuss the implications of IoT, including its positive impact on job creation and technological efficiency. Lawmakers stressed the importance of adequate security and privacy measures as well as the need for more unlicensed wireless spectrum to support IoT connectivity.
The nascent Internet of Things is about more than convenience, and has already made life better for millions of people. The same talk-to-text function in smartphones and smart TVs that helps you find a good coffee shop could become the primary means of communicating for those with disabilities who are unable to type.
As the sector grows, the effects and benefits will be exponential. At the 2015 International CES®, more than 900 exhibitors displayed IoT devices – a hint of the innovation and imagination to come. And the Internet of Things also holds awesome economic power. The FTC report noted there are now 25 billion devices connected to the Internet, a number that will double to 50 billion by 2020. Research from the Consumer Electronics Association shows that unlicensed spectrum – delivering the Wi-Fi connections that power so many of our IoT devices – generates $62 billion annually for U.S. economy. And the devices that rely most heavily on unlicensed spectrum such as Bluetooth and radio frequency identification-enabled devices, have a cumulative annual growth rate of roughly 30 percent from 2011-2016. The possibilities are limitless.
This growth potential does come with some new challenges, such as ensuring the security of personal information. The FTC report offered several recommendations for addressing these challenges. Many of the commission’s recommendations wisely involve using innovation, rather than oppressive regulations, to protect consumers – building security into devices from the outset, a “defense-in-depth” strategy using multiple layers of security to protect the user, and retaining user information for a set period of time, not indefinitely.
It’s important that these solutions are industry-driven rather than regulatory fixes, since the latter typically are short-term patches, soon outdated by rapidly and dynamically evolving technology. Policymakers should tread carefully as they explore the potential and growth of IoT.
If governments must act, its approach should be narrowly tailored to address tangible harms without creating roadblocks for future innovation. At the same time, regulators could facilitate IoT’s evolution by freeing up more spectrum, enacting pending patent law reform legislation and reforming immigration policy with respect to high-skilled workers.
As with so many new technologies – from credit cards to VCRs to streaming video – there are concerns about data privacy and security. When it comes to the Internet of Things, we’re still figuring out the right balance. But it’s important to let industry have the flexibility to drive new ideas to market before they are quashed. Manufacturers and service providers will focus on making good decisions about the privacy and security of information that devices collect and share. That’s not only important to their customers but vital for the industry as well, because consumer adoption hinges on building trust. Devices that do not meet consumer privacy and security expectations will fail.
Personally, I am willing to give up a certain level of privacy in exchange for convenience. I don’t mind recognition software if it gets me through an airport more quickly or enhances my security even further. If a website knows where I’ve been, maybe it can serve me better – and that’s a good thing. Others might disagree.
What’s paramount is that we as consumers have the ultimate control of our data, and that well intentioned but overzealous regulations don’t limit our options or the ability of innovators to meet evolving demands. IoT is a proving ground for the U.S., an opportunity to solidify our position as a global technology leader and a driving force of innovation.
Gary Shapiro is president and CEO of the Consumer Electronics Association.
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