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IoT industry must be proactive about ethical data use

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Panel discussion: the Internet of Things (IoT) industry has a unique opportunity to enforce ethical data use right from the start.

The billions of things that are expected to get connected will generate massive volumes of data. Making sense of that data will be key to realizing the value of the Internet of Things (IoT) and industrial IoT. Less clear is how all this data will be managed in an ethical way. Unlike other, traditional industries, which are now forced by regulators to retrofit rules for ethical data use, the growing IoT industry stands with a unique opportunity to get things right, right from the start. It is in fact an industry imperative, said David Blaszkowsky, head of data governance, at State Street and a representative of Financial Semantic Collaborative, a group working with raising awareness in the financial sector of the benefits of semantic data, during a panel discussion at IoT Solutions World Congress in Barcelona on Wednesday.

Simply complying to existing data rules might however fall short of end-user expectations. According to Giulio Coraggio, partner at global law firm DLA Piper, making IoT services and products compliant is no longer enough. ”Yes, clients want safe, compliant products but it is now crucial to create a link of trust between my company, my brand, and my customers,” he said. And the issue will only get bigger in the long run as end-user awareness of the value of their privacy increases, he added.

That said, creating rules for ethical data use is no easy task. Firstly, one must determine who actually owns which data. Then, a trade-off between privacy and security might come into play. Also, there are conflicting values at stake when it comes to data privacy, said Derek O’Halloran, head of information technology and electronics industries, and member of the leadership team at the World Economic Forum (WEF). ”We need to balance these values, in particular what is beneficial for one individual or one company against what is beneficial to society.”

In addition, implementing rules for ethical data use in one country could in fact be without effect once the data crosses that country’s border. ”Laws differ from country to country, what happens when data starts to migrate?, asked Sven Schrecker, chief architect, IoT Security Solutions, at Intel. ”It is not a technology problem. Is it time for security standards? For privacy standards? Or do we continue to have the same types of failures we have had throughout history?”

Standardization was however more or less discarded by the panelists, including Sven Schrecker himself. ”One problem with regulation or standardization is that it is often based on the lowest common denominator,” he said. The ball will really start rolling when end-users take the matter in their own hands and demand better privacy and security, he later added.

Last but not least, automation could open a whole new pandora box. Indeed, autonomous machines, such as self-driving cars, will face data-based human-like choices, like deciding whether to spare a driver’s life or that of the driver in an incoming vehicle in case of crash. ”Increasingly, as technologies are automated and decisions encoded in algorithms, we need to think through the ethical implications in advance,” said Derek O’Halloran at the WEF. These implications might go well beyond privacy and security considerations, makings things even more complicated than they already are. ”When machines can do more things than humans, what is left is our values,” he said.

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