Earlier this week, the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF) released its 10 Policy Principles for Unlocking the Potential of the Internet of Things. While the report touts the enormous potential for a connected world, it unfortunately misses the point that industry needs to do more to build transparency and choice around data collection before this next component of our digital world becomes ubiquitous. The ability to capitalize on all of the amazing benefits from new technology won’t happen without consumer trust.
One of the potential consumer applications of The Internet of Things (IoT) that the ITIF study outlines in its report is a “smart ‘onesies’ with embedded sensors that help parents monitor their infants’ health.” I doubt I’m the only parent who would be uncomfortable with a company using data about my newborn without very clear and transparent rules. As a parent, there is no way that I would buy that onesie without some more information about who else could see that data. And, if I started to receive targeted advertising based on my son’s sleep schedule, I would be a little freaked out.
The Internet of Things has the potential to alter our lives in amazingly positive ways. However, as with many promising technologies, our industry must set rules of the road for responsible and ethical uses of data. And, we must find ways to provide consumers with transparency and choice about how their data is being collected, used and shared. This is going to be particularly challenging for “devices” that don’t have a screen where consumers can be educated at the time their data is being collected.
As a cautionary tale, take a look at digital advertising. Click-through rates for digital ads are astronomically low. Fraud is abundant. Consumers don’t trust that advertisers are using their data ethically. And, increasingly, consumers are going to great lengths to stop it – Ad Block Plus is one of the most popular Android apps and consumers are activating Do Not Track even though there’s no industry standard yet. Advertising isn’t inherently bad and data can be used in powerful ways not only to improve its effectiveness, but to make advertising more relevant and valuable to consumers. However, people have a right to know when their information is collected and in what ways it may be used. That transparency helps build trust.
As we seek to take the power of data and the connectedness of the internet and extend it into a wide range of “things” — to make them smarter, better and more effective — we must put trust first. Without trust-based consumer relationships we risk never fully realizing all of the benefits of the world of IoT.