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Internet of Things – How to Balance Benefits from the Collected Data?

The internet of Things (IoT) or connected objects, for some, are rather a concept associated with the industrial and professional world: sensors, RFID chips for tracking the movements of products in logistics, environmental sensors for monitoring ground water levels or measurement of noise or air pollution, etc… All this is not very new.

For others, the notion of connected objects evokes a list of gadgets intended for the public: the connected fork, the connected toothbrush, the connected flower pot, the connected mattress, the connected vest, the connected kettle, or the connected house (e.g., home automation).

In both cases, the connected object is supposed to render an additional service to its user but also allows its designer or its operator to constitute a database which can be used in a context other than that accessible to the user. Thus, if the object is connected to the user’s smartphone (objects for individual use) or to the information system of the company (objects for professional use), it is through the designer or the operator of the service, which does not generally deprive itself of considering extensive and non-limiting use of the data collected.

The connected home devices will improve your comfort, but could also enable it to profile your domestic behaviour (presence, heating habits, etc.). The connected industrial equipment will allow their suppliers to directly monitor their operation and to have very complete and reliable statistics on their uses and malfunctions. Heating habits, etc.

Who will benefit from the development of the IoT?

IoT is a paradigm shift that is impacting both service providers and their customers. Objects that were products (fork, flower pot, etc.) become services when becoming connected.

In the wake of a paradigm shift that is well-known and already a thing of the past in mobile telephony (the mobile phone does not sell but is made available free of charge by the mobile operator in exchange for a commitment to consume a second change is emerging in the world of IoT: the value (in the value chain sense) of the connected objects is both in the object and the turnover generated by its sale, in its use by the consumer and the recurring turnover of keeping the associated service operational, and finally (and especially for objects concerning the general public), in the ability to value the data produced by the connected object, sometimes in a context other than that of the uses of the object.

This emerging logic raises two questions:

  • The first is the control of the use of these data: what right will the individual or professional user have on the re-use of his data by the various providers of the channel: cloud host, service administrator, suppliers and resellers of products and services?
  • The second is that of shifting the value chain: American farmers realized a few years ago that they could not let the large providers of precision farming services take ownership of their data, risking becoming simple technical executives of operations prescribed by these providers and fought to keep control of these data.

Hoteliers are currently realizing that the intermediation companies allowing the reservation on the Internet are reducing them to the rank of subcontractor. There is every reason to fear that a development not legally framed by this new paradigm in which the control of the data acquired in the framework of the service is strategically more important than the provision of the service or the sale of the product, leads to a reorganization of the chain value to those who control the data, reducing all firms to the rank of subcontractor.

What can I do for a balanced development of the IoT?

It is therefore important that the development of these connected objects and related services does not lead to generalized profiling of individuals, or to placing companies and companies under guardianship user organizations (under way in some areas of activity).

  • What avenues for reflection? The possibility for the user authorization to use or not to use of this data?
  • How to check compliance with the authorization granted? The possibility for the user to be remunerated when his data are valued commercially? This would be tantamount to explicitly authorizing any use provided that it is associated with remuneration.

Another way of thinking is provided by the approach of American farmers: fight to ensure that such data cannot be appropriated by a provider, but to be freely reusable by all (subject to respect for privacy of course).

After all, if the supplier markets products and services, it can be considered that his benefit is realized at this stage and beyond that, the supplier cannot have exclusive knowledge of a domain, an Individual, organization or groups of individuals or organizations. Can we imagine legislative developments in this direction in Europe and North America?

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