Waterloo Region Record

We must manage the internet of things with care

Who will ensure devices have been tested thoroughly and are secure? Who will ensure our privacy is protected?

- EAMONN BROSNAN Eamonn Brosnan is a research associate with the Frontier Centre for Public Policy. © Troy Media

Back in the early 1990s, I came across a story about a Coke machine that you could query from anywhere on the internet and it would tell you the temperatur­e of the drinks, the last time it was stocked and how full it was.

The machine was in the computer science department of Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. Computer programmer­s live on caffeine but who wants to walk all the way to the machines only to find that they’re empty or the contents are warm?

These days, a multitude of devices created by programmer­s and hardware designers similarly benefit our lives. Everything from smartphone­s to social media to home computers to your fridge to your car, and from home security to your furnace.

This is the future — the internet of things or IOT — in which the items in our lives communicat­e and share informatio­n with other everyday things.

Today’s security systems will notify you via an app on your phone of the status of your home — without paying for pricey monitoring companies. Video cameras can be rotated by the app to allow you to view your house from various angles while you’re away.

You can lock and unlock doors remotely and similarly adjust the temperatur­e in your home. You can turn lights on and off, check to see if you left your oven on make certain you locked your car.

And all of these convenienc­es — and more — will only become more prevalent as the technology becomes more affordable. The progressio­n to the fifth generation of cellular technologi­es (5G) will allow even more data from more sources to be exchanged.

Cars will exchange informatio­n with traffic control centres, allowing authoritie­s to respond to slowdowns and accidents more quickly. Those traffic control centres will direct cars (self-driving or otherwise) to take alternate routes when needed.

Medical devices already communicat­e wirelessly. Machines used to treat sleep apnea can be accessed by profession­als to monitor the user’s sleep quality. Pacemakers and insulin pumps can track the history of events and have the informatio­n downloaded for review.

As we continue to improve and shrink devices, as well as communicat­e robustly with them, we’ll be able to solve a multitude of health issues. The potential is immense.

But — and there is always a but — there are serious questions about malfunctio­ns, privacy and security.

Should employers or insurance companies be allowed to review our driving history, as recorded in our cars? Should they be allowed to review the logs of our sleep apnea device to determine how often we fail to use it, or our pacemakers to determine our current health conditions?

Who will ensure such devices have been tested thoroughly? Who will ensure our privacy is protected? Who will ensure these devices are secure and can’t be breached?

Ultimately, it’s up to us to ensure that government­s do enough to protect us. We need to demand our rights and safety are protected through laws, not just by the manufactur­ers.

Insulin pumps have been recalled because of weak security. Some pacemakers contain security flaws that could result in tragedy; they, too, have been recalled.

Ultimately, we’re all responsibl­e for the devices we use. But we can’t be expected to know or understand how everything works. So we rely on others, from doctors to salespeopl­e. They in turn rely on informatio­n from manufactur­ers and certifying agencies.

We need to ensure that this informatio­n is as accurate, and as thoroughly tested, as possible. I would hate for my car to crash as often as my computer.

 ?? DREAMSTIME ?? The internet of things is a big, juicy target for criminals, writes Eamonn Brosnan.
DREAMSTIME The internet of things is a big, juicy target for criminals, writes Eamonn Brosnan.

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