Home >Opinion >Online-views >The dark side of the Internet of Things

Remember the 1998 movie, The Truman Show, in which actor Jim Carrey played the role of a nondescript insurance salesman who discovers that his entire life is a false reality. It was a 24/7 recorded television show and all those around him were actors customizing their performance to his cues.

The satirical science fiction movie was a take on our obsession with celebrity culture and our insatiable appetite for every private detail of their ordinary lives. However, our present-day reality is not that different.

Today, each one of us is knowingly or unknowingly a protagonist in a digitally connected world. Our every move is recorded. However, instead of beaming these mundane details out to the world, our information is being used by marketers and organizations who analyse and dissect it to tailor-make their goods and services for us.

Some of this is happening with our consent.

For instance, at any given time, we have Apple’s Siri or Amazon’s Alexa with Echo or Google’s virtual assistant listening in to our conversations to do our bidding at our call.

Often, it seems, we are playing along. Our social media feeds being a case in point.

But it’s not just the tech and social media companies like Alphabet Inc.—Google and YouTube’s parent—and Facebook Inc. who are recording our lives.

With the Internet of Things (IoT), we have turned our every-day living places and devices into connected objects in pursuit of a better life.

So, we now have smart homes, smart cars, smart televisions, smart refrigerators and even smart accessories such as trackers and fit bits manufacturers collecting our data.

In fact, nine out of 10 Indians are open to experimenting with a gadget that helps them monitor their home appliances on a real-time basis; close to one-third would definitely subscribe to such a service, a February 2018 report on IoT based on a survey of 2,000 respondents across 12 cities in India by Tata Communications said.

According to Gartner Inc. forecasts, there were 8.4 billion connected things in use worldwide in 2017, up 31% from 2016.

This number will reach 20.4 billion by 2020. The consumer segment is the largest user representing nearly two-thirds of the overall number of applications in use.

The business of IoT, which included the total spending on endpoints and services, is already about a $2 trillion market in 2017, said Gartner

IoT is the key to connected living. However, as with technology, IoT has the same problem of absence of effective security protocols. In fact, with IoT, the possibility of personal data violation increases multifold.

Over the past couple of years, we have already seen a few instances of everyday devices such as baby monitors, TV sets and cameras, including, ironically, security cameras, being used to launch these attacks, advocate N.S. Nappinai wrote in a July 2017 paper, Dark Side of IoT, published by Computer Law Review International .

According to Nappinai, data protection and privacy face two independent forms of threats or infringements—one where manufacturers violate data protection norms or tweak it to suit their commercial interests and the other through malicious attacks and breaches. Both can have catastrophic consequences.

In India, the government, with its digital economy push, plans to have more than 100 smart cities and is also pushing IoT’s adoption. The country has a draft policy on the subject, which focuses entirely only on the exponential growth of the technology, the business and the employment potential it presents. However, it overlooks the threats and initiatives required to ensure security of users of this technology, Nappinai wrote in her paper.

Meanwhile, we are seeing tech majors like Joe Gebbua, co-founder of Airbnb, moving away from the use of technology in their homes.

“People assume that the smarter your home is, the better your life; but in reality, technology so often gets in the way of leading a good life," Gebbua told Financial Times in an interview.

At Airbnb, Gebbua is working on a prototype home of the future that can facilitate a deeper connection between guest and host. The result is a space that meets the aspects of a private home with those of a village hall, where paying guests share a communal downstairs floor with local designers, artisans and businesses.

The signs are telling. Perhaps the key to our future happiness lies in going back to our old ways.

Shop Talk will take a weekly look at consumer trends, behaviour and insights.

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