Always On: The Digital Consumer

Written by G.S. Hans

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How intimate are you with your toaster? Wait…don’t answer that. For most of us, the peculiarities of how scorched we like our toast is just too much information (TMI) to share with others, for privacy reasons and, well, because who cares? Apparently someone does. For many in the tech industry, TMI and Internet of Things (IoT) are the perfect marriage for a connected future and the perfect means for producing the love child of big data.

In an age when cars interact more than actual humans and we enthusiastically attach small tracking devices to our bodies in the name of health and fitness, it’s clear the boundaries of personal privacy need to be re-examined and re-affirmed for consumers and policymakers. In the third of our “Always On” series, CDT and our co-host TRUSTe investigated these and other issues that arise from widespread use and implementation of the IoT, exploring ways to responsibly realize the full potential of IoT without sacrificing individual control over personal information sharing.

Nest founder Matt Rogers kicked the event off as our fire starter. Rogers discussed how Nest designers and engineers came to understand the importance of baking privacy into their product. Rogers also answered provocative questions from the audience, such as “What happens when Nest begins to use the data it collects at the behest of Google (its parent company)?” Rogers said the company has no plans to share this data for marketing purposes.

San Jose Mercury News columnist Michelle Quinn then moderated a lively discussion among expert panelists that included CDT’s Michelle De Mooy, TRUSTe CEO Chris Babel, Joanne McNabb of the California Attorney General, and AT&T Foundry Director Mark Nagel. The panel discussed the benefits and risk of a connected world, including ways in which data collection from smart things might impact disadvantaged communities. Looking ahead fifteen years, panelists also gave their opinions on whether the IoT had “jumped the shark” or was still early in its development. “I think it’s still in its infancy, “ De Mooy said. “There is little to no interoperability among connected devices yet which has reduced overall adoption. But once there is a structure in place for interoperability and more standard security, the space will explode.” CDT President and CEO Nuala O’Connor ended the event by saying that CDT planned to be at the forefront of continued work around the IoT.

Thanks to everyone who joined us for Always On SF and expect more CDT events in the Bay area soon as we grow our West Coast presence.

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