ThingsCon is turning from a community into a global movement—driven by the European community of IoT practitioners.

3) Europe can take a lead role in advancing a responsible Internet of Things

Why European independent IoT practitioners have a unique take on IoT

At the beginning of this document we outlined our hypothesis for doing this research into Shenzhen and how it might relate to European independent IoT practitioners in particular:

  1. Responsible IoT is important. Because the Internet of Things (IoT) reaches deeper and deeper into our lives it is essential to have responsible and human-centric practices.
  2. European independents have something to contribute.
    For a number of historical, economic and political reasons European independent makers, designers, and entrepreneurs in the IoT space have a unique contribution to make.
  3. Shenzhen’s hardware ecosystem can provide leverage.
    Shenzhen’s unique hardware ecosystem can provide leverage for this European approach and hence help create more responsible IoT practices at scale.

Historical reasons

For historical reasons, Europe is painfully aware of the potential damage that can result from abuse of data. To this day, this historic legacy manifests itself in the European Union’s privacy regime. This awareness is probably nowhere as pronounced as in Germany where within a century there was not one but two surveillance states.

A strong privacy regime

The EU has a strict privacy regime and globally one of the strongest legal protections of the use and exploitation of data. Sometimes criticized as stifling innovation, sometimes lauded as a safe haven for citizens’ data, this data protection and privacy regime is driven most strongly by consumer rights considerations, ie. a protection of user data against commercial exploitation.

Less access to venture capital

While VC funding has been picking up in European startup hubs like London, Amsterdam and Berlin, access to venture capital funding is nowhere near the levels of Silicon Valley. Europe has solid public funding structures in place, but they tend to be small and/or not easily accessible for smaller organizations. Overall, this shifts the economic incentives away from the grow-quick-and-sell logic of VC funding and more towards sustainable business models.

In conclusion: Context matters

In combination, these factors paint a different picture than what you’d find particularly in the United States, the main Western hot spot for IoT development.

Promoting a responsible Internet of Things

Our loose, but close-knit alliance for the creation of a responsible Internet of Things (which makes for the lovely hashtag #RIoT!) is convinced that it’s important to work with the makers at the source, the manufacturers and design houses of Shenzhen.

ThingsCon Shenzhen: Where China meets Europe

Flyer for the inaugural ThingsCon Shenzhen, hosted by David Li and the Shenzhen Open Innovation Lab (SZOIL)
Flyer for the inaugural ThingsCon Shenzhen, hosted by David Li and the Shenzhen Open Innovation Lab (SZOIL)
  • Executive Director of Digital Asia Hub Malavika Jayaram explored societal and ethical implications of artificial intelligence and algorithmic decision making, and IoT, and especially how these data-driven systems tend to impact marginalized group disproportionately.
  • Gabriel Ionut Zlamparet gave an intro to remanufacturing of used medical devices. Remanufacturing, re-use, designing for re-use has huge potential for sustainability. Gabriel’s talk stressed the importance of design for re-use, refurbishment, longevity.
  • Jakie Yin of Rone Design showcased a wide range of connected industrial designs his company has been involved in. He explained three distinct development phases for hardware: 1) Zero to one 2) One to hundreds 3) Hundreds to X. Each phase requires different skill sets or partners.
  • Mozilla’s developer evangelist Dietrich Ayala spoke about the opportunities at the intersection connected products, UX, and the open web, and especially about app fatigue and opportunities for better on-boarding of new users in novel IoT-enabled interfaces.
  • Monique van Dusseldorp hosted a panel discussion with Iskander, Holly, Marcel and myself. We talked about responsible IoT, how it can be applied in the day-to-day work we all do, and explored if there’s a special angle that European indie IoT creators can bring in.
  • David Li gave an impromptu session on how to find components and partners in Shenzhen. Hint: It’s not necessarily on the market. Wechat, Taobao, and “technical solution houses” are good places to start.
Time is up! Image: Peter Bihr (CC by-nc-sa)
Time is up! Image: Peter Bihr (CC by-nc-sa)

Trustmarks for the Internet of Things (IoT)

We believe that consumer trust labels for IoT — let’s call them IoT trustmarks — can help consumers, designers, and manufacturers alike to make better-informed decisions around connected products.

  • Consumers can make better-informed decisions about which products to invite into their lives.
  • Designers and entrepreneurs can more easily communicate their unique selling points, and highlight that they take a responsible approach to product design.
  • Manufacturers can more easily be found by entrepreneurs based on specific requirements once they label their products.

Building a movement for responsible IoT

It seems essential to nurture a broad alliance — a movement, really — that advocates responsible IoT in all its many facets.

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An exploration of the Shenzhen hardware ecosystem & the importance of creating a responsible Internet of Things. To download the full text (PDF) just head on over to http://thewavingcat.com/viewsource-shenzhen & learn more about creating a responsible #IoT at ThingsCon.com

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Peter Bihr

Peter Bihr

What’s the impact of emerging tech, IoT, AI? @thewavingcat: Research & strategy. Co-founded @ThingsCon for a responsible #IoT. Mozilla Fellow. @ZephyrBerlin:👖

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