The ‘Internet of things’ or IoT, sounds like a remote technological concept that has nothing to do with the common man’s reality. Similarly, forty six years ago, no one believed in the potential of the ‘internet’, which started within the confines of the US Military research wing. Today, the internet has permeated so deep into our lives that we cannot imagine not being connected to Google, Facebook, Twitter, Whatsapp, navigation maps, Viber etc. the ubiquitous presence of the internet in our lives is known to all of us. The IoT (Internet of Things) moniker, visualizes a world where everyday objects like cars, machines, toothbrush, watches, fridge and people will be connected through sensors and the internet. In the recent times, driverless cars have become a very popular topic of discussion. These cars are powered by the IoT technology and have become one of the most common examples of IoT in countries where they are allowed to operate. IoT seeks to make objects intelligent so they can operate on their own like Robots.
IoT and Government of India
The government of India has come up with a Draft Internet of Things Policy, to incentivize industries to develop IoT related technologies on numerous verticals like energy, water management, parking systems, waste management etc. However, IoT is still at a very nascent stage in India and most of the IoT related technology is confined to large scale enterprises, manufacturing sector, healthcare sector, logistics and agriculture. But soon it will be a part of our everyday lives. For example, civic authorities of some countries have adopted IoT technology to deal with issues related to parking by installing smart parking meters so that drivers can find parking spaces faster by using an app. Similarly, IoT has been used for waste management where smart metres have been installed to inform the authorities that the garbage collection dumps are full and needs to be collected and dumped rather than rotting for days without being collected. IoT technology is being used to manage traffic so commuters may be able to avoid traffic and take alternative routes to reach their destination.
Why is the Internet of Things important?
1# There will be no life without IoT
IoT will matter to all of us because it will connect people to things through networks. Citizens are the greatest stake holders in the growth and development of this technology. IoT will impact our everyday life in every possible way. From the air we breathe through pollution monitoring systems to the route we take to our work to the groceries we shop IoT will be everywhere. Therefore, IoT is often referred to as the internet of everything.
2# Faster, safer, more convenient life
The objective of IoT is to simplify our lives, making things efficient, fast, convenient and accurate by replacing human decisions to that of decisions made by machines to get the optimum results. Take for example, in government services we are very dependent on the officer in charge to get our work done whether it is applying for a passport or a new gas connection. At times, we would have to wait for days or pay our way to get our work done. The IoT world seeks to change all of this. In the IoT world we will be applying for our passports, updating our government documents, refilling our gas etc. online with minimum human interference. Even when it comes to citizen security IoT can play a very important role. IoT can make large cities like Delhi where police patrolling has not been the most effective solution in combating crimes much safer, through surveillance and response systems that are quick and effective. So if tomorrow there is a burglary or a crime committed in an area the closest police station would receive a signal of the exact location of the crime on real-time basis through remote sensors.
3# we will get used to automation on a whole new level
We will constantly be connected; this means that networks will process, analyse, store and retain our information. Do you ever wonder how the lights of a hotel room switches off by itself when you leave the room? Don’t you think that automatic gates that open up on their own as soon as your car reaches the drive way are very cool? Wait till IoT becomes a reality on a large scale, and our daily lives will be more automated than ever.
4# Privacy concerns will be on all time high
So your network knows where you are staying, who you are meeting, what time you’ve arrived, which car you drive, etc. etc. because all this interaction between the sensors placed in your phone device and other devices will be retained and stored in the IoT networks. Thus, raising security and privacy concerns.
5# Expect much better services
With IoT, service delivery will be enhanced. For example, your car will be connected to the service centre to monitor the condition of the car so even before you have a breakdown your service centre will be informed and help will be on its way. Another example can be shopping, stores will have IoT enabled technology that will save you from standing in the queues and waiting for billing by automatically scanning your items and generating your bills. You will be able to pay these bills simply by tapping your credit cards in the merchant’s device. ICICI bank, in India has actually launched its NFC (Near Field Communication) technology card to make cashless payments. Now, rather than having a physical person swipe your card you will be able to tap your card and just walk away.
6 # Kejriwal’s dream come true
With reduced human interference in the services sector especially government services corruption will reduce significantly while delivering fast and improved services.
What should we know about the internet of things?
Information campaigns- 80% or more people are un-informed about this technological revolution, which will change the way we communicate, work and live. People need to be provided with correct information on the use of IoT through collective efforts made by governments, enterprises, tech companies and groups of citizens by publicity campaigns. No one knew of ‘Net-neutrality’ till campaigns were launched through social media and other platforms to create an awareness of how the ‘Net-neutrality’ would impact all our lives. Similarly, no one believed that human activities can cause Climate Change and Global Warming till the time both public and private organisations, scientists, academics and intellectuals collectively mobilised information to the people.
Economic accessibility- It would be unfortunate if the benefits of the IoT technology trickles down only to a certain class of people based on its affordability. The internet being the driving factor behind IoT technology the Indian government needs to find ways to raise our internet penetration rate from 19% to a globally competitive figure. Rural India should be able to utilise this technology as much as urban India. Village Panchayats must have access to reap the benefits of this technology for community development and other purposes
Vulnerable world– IoT will expose consumers to a world of vulnerabilities. Our personal information like government documents, health information, profile, etc. will be tracked, recorded, stored, processed and used without our knowledge. Thus, exposing us to cyber attacks and raising fundamental concerns on privacy and security. For example, insurance companies may be able to access all the information and history of your car or health and base their insurance policies on minute nitty grities and offer their customers insurance premiums based on the information that we do not desire to share with our insurers. India still has her Privacy Bill, pending in the parliament, our cyber laws are incomprehensive and unable to catch up with technology. The legal framework to regulate the IoT world would be a specialised and sophisticated one calling for the participation of all the stakeholders, the citizens, NGO’s, start-ups, telcos, manufacturers etc.
Effective disclosures– government, organisations and manufacturers would need to work together to reduce the exposure to vulnerabilities through publication of information on the risks associated with IoT and developing effective disclosure regimes for consumers in simplified language.
Transparency– sectors using IoT technology on consumers must inform their customers on what information they are exactly collecting and the reason for seeking and retaining such information. For example, if our doctor needs to monitor my sugar levels or blood pressure through my wearable IoT device or sensor we need to be informed that only information related to address a specific concern is being monitored and such information will not be made available without our consent. We as consumers would also need to know what we are exposing ourselves to and who will be responsible for the leak of information.
Changing nature of crime– since IoT seeks, to align the virtual world with the physical world by keeping us connected to its networks at all times. The nature of crimes committed in the IoT world would be significantly different from the crimes committed today. Cyber criminals would no longer attack the identities of their victims by hacking into individual systems through viruses, bugs, identity theft etc. in the IoT world criminals would target the devices and sensors that retain and store our information. This is a highly sophisticated system of hacking that targets everyone and anyone connected to the IoT world.
Common language to combat cyber crimes- India needs to be pro-active in forming global alliances to develop IoT security standards for manufacturers of the devices, consumers, programming companies to reduce the risks of IoT.
Develop skill set- we need to sensitise people at various levels on the use of this technology. For example, civic authorities should be trained to understand what a particular signal in their devices indicates or how to use a particular app to deliver a particular product or cater to a request. This is not a difficult task radio taxi companies like Uber, Ola, Taxi for Sure etc.have trained their thousands of drivers to use navigation maps on their phones, respond to a customer’s request for a cab or cancel a booking.
Building trust– technology can be a boon or a Frankenstein, provided we know how to curb and control its ill effects. Fear, mis-information and distrust on the IoT technology cannot be the basis to stop a technological progress aimed at bettering our lives. Manufacturers of IoT devices as well as governments and programming companies would have to work together to build secure systems right from the designing and building phase to the phase of final implementation and use. Security systems of the products must be updated at all times through programming mechanisms. IoT devices and equipments must adhere to global standards safety and design.
Right to choose is paramount– since IoT contemplates connecting us to networks and devices, we as consumers must have the final right to make an informed decision on whether to be in an IoT network or not. For example, if my doctor wants to monitor my health and needs constant updates on my health records, I should be able to have an option of whether I would like to get this done by opting into the IoT network where my doctor receives health updates on real time basis or whether I would like to make regular visits to the doctor without being a part of the IoT world. The consumer must have the final say on how they wish to share their information.
This article just seeks to provide basic information on IoT there are many aspects to this technological marvel that needs to be explored systematically.