Are we ready for the Internet of Things?

Are we ready for the Internet of Things?

Global regulators and business are only now coming to terms with the legal issues raised by the Internet of Things

Thanks to the Internet of Things (IoT), the days of shopping lists, empty fridges, lost car keys, undetected health conditions or spending hours looking for a car space may soon be things of the past.

The IoT is the interconnectivity of devices through the internet without human input. Thanks to the vast expansion of bandwidth, drop in cloud storage costs and advances in data analytics technology, the IoT is finally taking off.

Soon your refrigerator will tell you when you are out of milk, your broken down car will call a recovery response team its exact location, or equipment in your hospital will collect data about you and automatically sending it to the treating doctor. The list goes on…

In an age where there will be tens of billions of connected devices by 2020, the IoT has the potential to revolutionise our daily lives. Not for nothing has the IoT been called the 'industrialisation' or 'commoditisation' of the internet.

The IoT can improve our quality of life and healthcare and contribute to a better understanding of consumer behaviour and preferences.

As with any industrial leap, these benefits do come with a cost. Global regulators and business are only now coming to terms with issues such as:

• defining interoperability standards to minimise interference between billions of devices;

• ensuring there are enough IP addresses to allocate a unique identifier to each of these devices;

• allocation of scarce spectrum to meet bandwidth requirements;

• net neutrality and whether there should be differentiated class of service for IoT;

• social equity issues in ensuring all groups in society have equal access to the benefits of and are equally protected from the risks of IoT; and

• cyber security and privacy issues.

On security and privacy, the sharing of habits, routines, health and financial information leaves individuals potentially vulnerable to cyber intruders.

For example, houses have already been robbed through babycams being hacked. Data brokers who aggregate masses of disparate pieces of information about individuals allow our digital footprints to be used for aggressive marketing, profiling and sales methods.

The Australian privacy framework is based on the idea of individuals giving consent to the use of their personal information.

However, the concept of 'consent' is an increasingly abstract one in an age when multiple devices are streaming personal information 24/7.

An added consideration is the recently amended mandatory data retention laws. These laws require certain 'metadata' to be retained by Australian ISPs.

Read more: UPDATED: AARNet confirms international connectivity issues

Where IoT metadata is captured by these new laws, it too will need to be stored on private servers operated along with large volumes of other data.

The internet is often said to be the world's greatest single social experiment. Now, the sheer volume of IoT devices has the potential to dramatically affect the lives of the world's citizens, both for good and ill.

Similar challenges arose in the West during the Industrial Revolution two centuries ago, which changed the economy, society and culture forever. Will IoT be the same?

James Halliday is a partner at law firm Baker & McKenzie. Rebekah Lam is a lawyer at Baker & McKenzie.

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