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Good Practice Around IoT

In the article IOT -Connecting Things We spoke about the complexities of connecting things, but the internet of things has presented industry and makers with some rather large ethical and commercial challenges as well. The first is really about how products and ecologies are developed on top of open source technologies. The second relates to user and corporate behaviours when collecting data in such a rich and diverse way. 

The role of open source

When you're a maker and building prototypes on open source platforms like the Arduino & the Raspberry Pi, there is a community incentive to make your work open source too.

The problems start when commercial dynamics take over an open source project. The Makerbot for example, a 3D printer built on top of the Arduino, was open source for many years and announced a closed source version of their Replicator 2 (875-4711)after a competitor ( the Tangibot ) stepped in to make a much cheaper version. Makerbot had received $10M in venture capital that year so it's clear to see investors didn't want to see their investment devalued. The company came under community fire again as it was found to patent designs which belonged to the contributors of a 3D design community they had started, Thingiverse

The cost of developing hardware make the open source conversation more difficult to have when an idea moves on from being a project to a startup and a company. Open source has tended to do better when it comes to software only or kits of parts such as Botanicalls , a student project which is sold either assembled or as a DIY kit. The Open Source Hardware Association tries to encourage the use of open source hardware commercially with their Open Source Hardware Definition

This doesn't mean of course, that other elements of your connected product can't be open source. MQTT for example, was a proprietary protocol. In 2011,  IBM released it as open source , recognising the need to open access to these connecting technologies. NodeRED , a visual development environment was released in 2013. 

The answers are evolving and as many large companies start making investments across the industry, we might see open source hardware become more mainstream. 

Security & Privacy

In any new industry, the issue of safety and security always come up especially when it involves consumer applications. In the case of the internet of things, we're talking about applications which can be potentially hacked and effect the use of a physical product. It means that security breaches emmerge at a hardware level, software and web levels all at the same time. Some unfortunate examples of badly designed products which were hacked include: a health tracker which revealed a little too much data , a digital picture frame with an email account which received ended up receiving spam , a  fridge which received spam  and a baby monitor that was hacked

Sharing data unwillingly or unknowingly also implies advertising these days. When Google acquired Nes t in early 2014, pundits imaged that Nest would suddenly become a tool for advertising.

Apple tried to address similar concerns with its iOS8 and trying to protect consumers from advertisers but the iBeacon technology certainly will allow those kinds of interactions to exist. 

There are no clear policies in the UK around these topics, but we can imagine that the Data Protection & Consumer Protection Acts of the future might cover more than just digital data, but data which comes from objects as well. The best is to consider a product in its entirety and the security breaches multiplied as a result. 

Related Articles

+ The Internet of Things - What is it?

+ IOT - Connecting Things

+ IOT - Application Examples

London-based internet of things consultant with an industrial and interaction design background. Founder of the Good Night Lamp. Curator of the London Internet of Things Meetup since 2011. Writing a book about Smart Homes for Apress.

16 May 2014, 9:09