Practical insights for compliance and ethics professionals and commentary on the intersection of compliance and culture.

Round-up on the ethics of the Internet of Things

The Internet of Things refers to physical devices which are inter-networked and can share and store data between themselves. This includes things such as televisions, cars, buildings, and other objects that have network-connected technology inside that allow these objects to be accessed and controlled remotely via computer-based networks. This also includes systems that operate in this way, such as smart homes, grids, and cities. These things can be identified and operated individually but also are part of the interconnected system and can have co-dependencies.

There are obvious ethical issues with a highly connected and complex system such as the Internet of Things, where tremendous amounts of data are stored and shared and ultimately used in often mysterious or unclear ways – certainly to improve the intelligence of the Internet of Things and make it operate more efficiently, but also potentially for malicious or dishonest purposes.   Security vulnerabilities in a system which is remotely accessible are also an alarming risk, as unauthorized intrusions or destructive attacks could render everyday items such as cars or door locks inoperable or turn items such as smart houses or transportation networks against their users.

  • The technology that drives the Internet of Things has grown explosively, and legal and compliance frameworks have not been able to keep pace. Questions of liability that arise from cyberattacks on the Internet of Things and rules of responsibility governing companies working within this space are largely undefined. The Internet of Things may bring change to society similar to that of the Industrial Revolution. A thoughtful view on regulations and ethical guidance to protect privacy and security from the earliest design point in the industry is crucial: The Internet of Things Needs a Code of Ethics
  • Among all the fears of artificial intelligence and sentient, unfriendly robots with autonomous weapons, the real risk of the Internet of Things will still lie in the hands of humans. Hackers are a big threat to the system’s security and this risk must be taken seriously, with organizations investing in controls to prevent and mitigate attacks, intrusions, and disruptions that could damage devices, harm people, and interrupt business operations: Why Hackers Will Become a Significant Threat to the Internet of Things
  • The data produced in the Internet of Things is a major security and privacy consideration. Users of these interconnected devices may not realize how much information the devices have about them and their activities. The Roomba, a small robot home vacuum, was an early-comer to this market. The company that makes it, iRobot, has said it hopes to make money from selling maps of users’ living rooms to other companies. Using customer data for profit from a third-party is nothing new in the internet company world, but there are many questions of privacy, notice, and consent which remain to be answered: The Internet of Things is a data farm, Roomba won’t be its only profiteer
  • Cybersecurity fears about the Internet of Things extend to the U.S. government as well, where legislators have proposed to make sure that smart devices can receive security updates like traditional computers. Lawmakers also seek to prevent manufacturers from hard-coding passwords into their system tools that can be manipulated by hackers to take control of the related devices. The U.S. government is just as interested in the objects of the Internet of Things as consumers are, and safeguarding against present and future risks from them is top of mind: Two U.S. lawmakers think the government has a new cybersecurity problem: The Internet of Things
  • So what does all this mean for the future of the Internet of Things? Will the risks of it slow its growth or it will it continue to advance in both complexity and connectivity, its risks unchecked or outpacing the frameworks created to control against them? It appears likely that the value and appeal of connection, and the fear of not being able to function and communicate, will outweigh the desire to want to withdraw from it for safety and privacy purposes: The Internet of Things Connectivity Binge: What Are the Implications?

The intelligence and complexity of the Internet of Things will continue to grow as consumer applications become more in demand and commonplace. The need for strong security standards and clear customer protections will expand in kind. Privacy, safety, and control are all ethical concerns which compliance programs at the companies working on the Internet of Things will have to consider prominently in future risk assessments and strategic plans.

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