How do we unlock consumer trust for IoT?

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From increasing the safety of roads and making homes more efficient, to improving the way we deliver healthcare services, IoT solutions enhance the way we work and live. Globally, IoT adoption is growing faster than ever. In fact, according to IoT market analysts, devices connected worldwide will almost double from 15.1 billion in 2020 to more than 29 billion IoT devices in 2030. This exciting forecast indicates that connected devices will collect and exchange greater volumes of data than ever before, making trust a critical component in IoT projects.

While it’s clear that IoT has provided many benefits from a societal perspective, the question of ethical practice around IoT remains a subject of conversation and concern. For instance, there are hesitations around the global availability of IoT and whether it can fully contribute to an inclusive society. Plus, there are growing security and stability concerns across the network, about whether it can be trusted and not be harmful to users.

Consider the ethical dimension

When it comes to IoT, ethical issues don’t exist in isolation. Security, trust and privacy are all interconnected.

Digital security risk is present at every step along the IoT journey, as cybersecurity hackers will take advantage of a system's vulnerability and seek out sensitive data. An example of this includes new research that highlights how a new variant of the notorious Mirai botnet, is infecting poorly secured IoT devices by exploiting default login credentials such as usernames and passwords. Researchers have uncovered three campaigns using the botnet in the past year, and it is just one of many similar attacks that have taken place since the inception of IoT. Such attacks and the subsequent misuse of data breaks down user trust and raises questions about privacy concerns.

There are also wider concerns about the ethics of IoT when it comes to emerging markets. For more developing countries, there can be fewer safety and security regulations in place and a lack of availability for modern solutions. That means, unfortunately, there is less protection and greater risk for consumers. Additionally, one of the most significant challenges that developing countries face is inadequate infrastructure. IoT technology relies on robust and reliable networks to function effectively. In areas with poor connectivity and electricity supply, implementing IoT solutions can be challenging.

Desiree Miloshevic Evans

Co-chair of the RIPE Cooperation Working Group.

Create an ethical plan for the future

The only way to successfully deliver on the promise of IoT – for the public good – is with an informed consumer. Consumers need to trust that an organization will use their data and information appropriately and responsibly. With trust in-hand, we can address the other concerns in turn.

Let’s start with security and data ownership. It is critical to ensure sensitive data doesn’t end up in the wrong hands. Detecting network outages, network traffic bursts, and denial-of-service attacks to resolve issues proactively is made possible through real-time traffic monitoring and endpoint management. That is a fundamental requirement.

Ultimately – when deploying IoT systems, products, and services – organizations need to develop clear and transparent IoT strategies that focus on privacy and security with trust. They must consider ethical considerations from the outset and throughout the lifecycle of the project. IoT policy must align with wider political and environmental needs and commitments. For example, sensors can be used to warn us of fires, clean air and water concerns. They can also be used to improve sustainability initiatives. For instance, sensors can be used for ‘smart farming,’ to monitor weather, soil, and crop condition in real time. Monitoring alone can save billions of gallons of water and gigawatts of electricity by reducing waste and yet increasing farm productivity. If we build enough momentum, starting with best practice at an organizational level, we can help to create and then reinforce an ethical and sustainable way of using IoT.

Then, for developing countries in particular, we need the best-possible infrastructure. IPv6 adoption is one of the many important factors which supports the adoption of IoT. In fact, IPv6 means that there are more than enough IP addresses to accommodate the vast number of IoT devices that are expected to come online in the coming years. IPv6 offers a much larger address space, which is essential for the growth of IoT. This will enable IoT devices to connect securely and communicate with each other, to streamline data exchange and make it more reliable and efficient.

Community perspective

The final consideration is the community perspective. There are established, open communities that have been working on network and ICT security, privacy, network abuse and related issues for decades, which interact with regulators and government groups to address their needs. These communities have developed a base of standards, documentation and knowledge that will help developers who are working at the intersection of these issues. They also welcome the unique perspective of people working in the IoT field to inform their policy and standards development discussions.

In order for all people across the world to be able to benefit from this powerful extension of the Internet, we must develop and maintain a common understanding of global good practice. Such practice requires a combination of sustainable solutions and interoperable standards which focus on scalable and low-power connectivity, security measures including end-to-end encryption, regulatory compliance with data protection and data ownership regulations such as GDPR and HIPAA. There are actions here for all organizations to take at all levels; particularly those considering deploying IoT now or in the future. We must work together to keep pace with the deployment of IoT solutions and set new levels of global trust to help protect users into the future.

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Desiree Miloshevic Evans is Co-chair of the RIPE Cooperation Working Group.