U.S. gets warnings and advice about the Internet of Things

The IoT can be a force for good and evil, say papers

internet of things
ITworld/Steve Traynor

When it comes to the Internet of Things (IoT), the only agreement in Washington is on its impact: It will be huge --- in both good and bad ways.

The IoT may become a means to deliver a disabling, global attack. Connected IoT devices have potential to reveal more than a novelist about a person's behavior and bring privacy invasion to a new level. On the plus side, improved automation may save lives, keep people healthy and increase food production.

That's a broad assessment of more than 130 papers submitted by businesses, industry groups, privacy advocates and others who responded to a request by the U.S. Department of Commerce for comment about the IoT's potential.

The government will take this input and issue a "green paper," the name given for a tentative government report, and not an official policy statement. This paper is a windup for the ensuing public policy debate.

One area that most of the commenters avoided, however, was the IoT's impact on jobs. Most of the industry groups said, generally, that more high-skilled people will be needed, but Booz Allen Hamilton, a management consulting firm, was one of the few to describe what will be required.

The IoT may make some skills obsolete, such as truck driving, but other jobs will grow in demand, said Booz Allen, and the workforce "will need to adapt.

"Embedded hardware and software developers, API developers, cyber security officers, project managers and product managers will be key to driving businesses forward," said Booz Allen. "Organizations will need trained data scientists to analyze and remove noise from data, and privacy officers will need to analyze vulnerabilities and evolve policies," it wrote.

It sees crowdsourcing becoming increasingly popular as a means for corporations "to access top talent on demand." There will also be new demand for the kind of skills machines can't offer, such as emotional intelligence, creativity "and the ability to deduce meaning from information," said Booz Allen

The IoT will result in job reductions, "but it will also introduce incredible benefits through new, skilled jobs and better quality of life," said Booz Allen.

The American Bar Association (ABA) warned that the IoT may be so vast that responding to a "disabling attack" could exceed "the capacity of any application vendor, the largest global device manufacturers, a self-help community within an industrial sector, or even national governments to address."

That's on the expectation that in North America alone, the IoT will deliver some 250 billion sensors for consumer applications, and 50 billion on highway control devices. This massive deployment "will require a corresponding unprecedented scale of requirements for defensive measures, updates and mitigations in the event of a security compromise," said the ABA.

Vendors can make individual devices secure, but once users start assembling a variety of devices to create a "composable" infrastructure, there is "no certainty" that any security, safety and privacy protections will remain, said the Association of Computer Machinery.

The ABA saw IoT benefits as well, such as employer-mandated wearable devices that may improve long-term health of employees and reduce employers' healthcare costs, but "could enable discrimination against employees who are physically disabled, suffer from certain diseases or conditions, or simply do not have the time to exercise because of family or other obligations."

Similar to the debate that began with ecommerce, privacy advocates want the government to enact laws that protect individuals.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center said the IoT can become a way for businesses to learn a customer's "consumption, activity patterns, associations, lifestyle, age, income, gender, race, and health -- information with potential commercial value."

But businesses want any issues addressed through "self-regulatory frameworks, open standards and competition," wrote IBM.

The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers said there is a need for interoperability. "A vehicle must be able to communicate with vehicles from other manufacturers when it is first sold or leased, but also with vehicles sold or leased many years later," the industry group wrote.

The IoT has implications for the communications infrastructure as well.

Coverage for consumer devices "is determined by population -- where the people are," said AT&T. "In contrast, IoT solutions can drive coverage requirements to just about anywhere, particularly in the case of remote monitoring applications."

Spectrum access is a major issue. Fashion Innovation Alliance said there is need for "greater amounts of unlicensed spectrum for Wi-Fi as the number of IoT products continues to increase, especially for fashion tech."

Copyright © 2016 IDG Communications, Inc.

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