The Implications of Connecting ‘Everything’ — Digisoc3

Image by Habu Pal via Flickr. (Creative Commons)

Living in a digital society concerns efficiency, ease of use and a futurism that is unprecedented. The digitization of our day-to-day life in order to be the most effective provides the perfect wave for the Internet of Things (IoT) to ride on, connecting everyone and everything with an Internet access. The implications of living in an IoT digital society varies from harmless fun to severe security issues. An IoT lifestyle today is a gimmick; we can grab our phones off of the nightstand and tell the coffee machine to start pouring, providing a seemingly luxurious lifestyle. The Internet of Things has combined efficient desires with app reality. But behind the face of cool apps comes a very powerful tool: the ability to interconnect devices and access information of human pattern, consumer behaviour and surveillance. If there is something to be measured, monitored or controlled, there is going to be an IoT device for it. It is exciting and resourceful, but a digital society bound by the Internet of Things also implies intimidating results for our current way of life.

The monopoly of connections —

The unparalleled amount of connected data that the IoT provides offers businesses unlimited analysis and behavioural awareness. On the most basic level, businesses with the best IoT devices will be able to assess consumer habits so intricately that competitors will have a hard time contending. Hui et al claims, “business models can be fine-tuned to take advantage of behavioural data” for example, companies can dynamically price their items based on consumer or location to increase the chances of purchase. However, this theory is limited as it puts those business unable to compete with IoT devices at risk of being left behind. As a competitive strategy, the businesses that cannot afford IoT data and devices are at risk of losing their leg to stand on.

In addition to this, a personal risk also arises from businesses becoming more connected. When machines become smarter as well as more efficient, the need for human labour decreases. The CEO of AT & T Mobile clarified, “if you’re not in the IoT eco-system … you’re really going to be out. You’re really going to get left behind.” Nonetheless, it is important to note that we are not yet at this stage; a great deal of policies, rules and regulations needs to be established before IoT transforms and dominates businesses.

Security Issues: Big Brother —

Forbes predicts that 30 billion devices will be connected by 2020. So far, the Internet of Things seems to be the next-great-thing making our lives as easy and efficient as possible. But with huge data assessment comes huge responsibility, who is assessing us and what else are they doing with the information? To emphasize the risk of connecting our lives to our devices, researchers at the University of Michigan were able to hack into an entire home monitoring system accessing the pin code to open the house’s front door. Concern over cyber-security is not a new phenomenon, but the more information that we connect, the more at risk we are. Interestingly, whilst companies race to ascertain information and create IoT devices, very little is being done to regulate these devices and the information they have access to. Roman Foeckl says, “When we look at our work spaces today there are already a number of wireless devices, from Bluetooth mice to wireless keyboards, and we have very little knowledge of who develops the firmware that runs on them or where is it coming from.” Foeckl’s argument is supported by Farrel, “the goal is to hoover up information about us, use that to optimise processes, nudge us to earn more, consume more”. Farrel extends that we are not aware or concerned with who is watching us, resigned to a life of accepting the IoT is a necessary way of life. It is undisputed that the Internet of Things in a digital society implies a huge security risk.

Image by David Maddison via Flickr. (Creative Commons)

Security threats resulting from the IoT can emanate on both a business and a personal level. The business use of IoT produces large amounts of capital, which induces more data to be shared in order to make more money. The capitalization of people’s lives implies a great ethical conflict. Farrel claims that privacy, a basic right, has been morphed into a luxury good that few can attain, “we are no longer citizens enjoying civic space; we are crops to be harvested, we are potential risks to be controlled”. Farrel’s argument is convincing, IoT devices aren’t just created to monitor our objects but ourselves to0. Whilst a smart-fridge which informs you when you’re out of a product is useful, that fridge is also sharing information about you’re consumer behaviour: what you eat and where you shop. In light of this argument, the marketing of IoT seems to be all smoke and mirrors; we are not apart of the movement but the products of it.

Ethical Rights and Responsibility —

It is difficult, as ‘digital citizens’ with the knowledge that we are moving towards are more interconnected world but with many risks such as violated privacy and increased surveillance, to know how to retain our rights and live within an ethical and just digital society. The ethical implications of a digital society connected by the Internet of Things is a complex territory. This issue is heightened by the lack of understanding between what is unethical and what is simply, illegal. Discussing ethical issues in cyber-space, Gunarto discusses workplace monitoring of employee emails concluding that whilst assessing emails is considered to be wrong and a violation of privacy, it isn’t illegal. This issue becomes magnified in a digital society controlled by the Internet of Things, implying that big data collection and surveillance may be unethical but it is acceptable. Even more, it is unlikely that these activities will ever become ‘illegal’ as being ‘Big Brother’ is a ‘$6 trillion industry’ and so ethical issues are buried.

This idea is validated by a study conducted by the University of Pennsylvania who identified that students, when faced with the option to share information with businesses, accepted the terms and conditions because they believed it would be shared anyway. This reinforces the security issue of smoke and mirrors; a contradiction between our ethical rights to accept when our information is shared and the assumption that it happens nonetheless.

Reflection —

My understanding of the digital society was initially based entirely on social media: being connected across multiple platforms and being able to get any answer from search engines. With 1.86 Billion people using Facebook every month, my understanding of the digital society wasn’t wrong, but it was only scraping the surface. From taking this unit, I have learnt that there is so much more to the digital society, and what it means to be living in one.

The main challenge of this unit, for me, was opening my mind to the possibilities of a digital society and not the limitations of it. During the class discussion of Smart Cities I was introduced to great ideas that seemed to be taken out of a dystopian novel. I had been so concerned with the issues of a digital society that, until this discussion, I had not realised the potential of our societies. I particularly enjoyed the activity where we had to imagine what the future of our city, Manchester, could look like: with self-emptying bins, contactless charity donation stands and automated cars.

Another challenging aspect of this unit was presenting the Pecha Kucha presentations as I find public speaking unnerving. Nonetheless, my presentation on the challenges facing the automotive industry gained some great feedback and I realised that standing in front of other students and presenting my ideas isn’t as intimidating as I thought.

I believe that my contribution to class discussion was useful, and I enjoyed discussing my ideas with other students and hearing their perspectives. However, despite finding my classmates perspectives really helpful, I found it difficult to reflect their views in my assignments, leading me to lose out on marks which was disappointing. Nonetheless, I believe that the knowledge I gained from the class discussions alone was extremely beneficial. In particular, I really enjoyed the discussion of the Internet of Things where one classmate told us about the IoT doorbell that allows you to answer even if you’re out of the house, preventing burglaries.

If I were to do anything differently, it would be to expand my horizons at the beginning of the module and research the potential of a digital society so that I would be more prepared for class discussions of new ideas and innovations. However, it is fair to say that I was quite clueless at the beginning of this unit of just how far the digital society expands and so it was more interesting for me to learn of new innovations through discussion.

This unit has taught me more than just the content each week. I have learnt the value of intellectual property and the importance of referencing images and ideas online. Across the unit, I have been challenged to reflect on ideas and think about the implications of a digital society. Overall, this unit has introduced me to a range of ideas and skills but most favorably, it has left me wondering what the future of our digital society will look like.

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