Nº 6 2015 > ITU Telecom World 2015

Ensuring trust in the “Internet of Things” era

Ensuring trust in the “Internet of Things” era

It is hard to overstate the magnitude of the changes coming to people’s daily lives as we move rapidly into the Internet of Things (IoT) era. “IoT is one of the biggest revolutions in the history of humankind,” says Bocar Ba, Chief Executive Officer of the SAMENA Telecommunications Council, which represents the South Asia, Middle East, and North Africa regions.

The possibilities to improve lives through smart and connected devices are increasing exponentially, but so too are the thorny implications around trust. How do you obtain individual consent for usage, storage, and transfer of data in the IoT era? How do you protect users’ identities?

“Within the foreseeable future all of our devices will be connecting in one way or the other,” says Rene Arnold, Head of Department, Markets and Perspectives, at WIK Consult, a German research and advisory institution. “This begs the question: Will this lead to total transparency? Is this something that we as individuals and a society can live with? We need to have a sizeable dialogue about how we want to integrate these technologies in our lives.”

ITU Telecom World 2015 in Budapest featured discussions on these issues from a wide variety of perspectives — along with calls for a sustained and structured dialogue moving forward.

Informed consent

One of the top issues discussed in Budapest regarding consumer privacy in the IoT era was that of “informed consent.” The IoT era hugely complicates the issue of informed consent.

“Can we make informed consent work? This is a very tricky topic,” says Mr Arnold. “Consumers tend not to read or understand terms and conditions. In IoT, most devices won’t even have a screen to show terms and conditions.”

So how do governments craft policies that adequately balance the interests of companies and consumers?

Keng Thai Leong, Director-General of the InfoComm Development Authority, Singapore, shared some of the evolution his government has gone through as it strives to balance consumer and companies’ interests when it comes to data collection, data use, and data processing.

“Singapore is a data hub, so trust is key for us,” said Mr Leong. “We needed to ask: ’Is there a proper legislative regime that promotes trust?’ So [Singapore’s] law policy struck a balance between companies’ interests and consumers’ privacy interests based on other countries’ laws.”

Leong says the two-year-old law is already facing new challenges, but that Singapore sees itself as a “smart nation” so it has to adapt. “Getting consent is actually context-driven,” said Leong, explaining that Singapore introduced the concept of “deemed consent” which would allow data about your purchase at a grocery store, for example, to be stored without asking for your consent each time. He also mentioned a concept of “reasonableness” which recognizes when it is not feasible to ask for consent, such as closed-circuit television in public areas.

Privacy policies across borders

The data increase with IoT along with the cross-border nature of ICTs will lead to a range of complications regarding privacy laws.

Boutheina Guermazi, Senior Regulatory Specialist for the World Bank, outlined the scope of the problem during a panel discussion about how to regulate trust. She cited a 90 per cent increase in data transfer in the past two years along with more than 100 new privacy laws, leading to huge questions about how all this data should be managed. But she noted studies showing that when domestic laws are tough on privacy there is an impact on foreign direct investment (FDI) and on development.

Rob Middlehurst, the Vice President for Regulatory Affairs at the United Arab Emirates-based telecom service provider, Etisalat, used an example to illustrate how vastly different privacy laws in different countries will be the cause of increased complication in the IoT era. He used the example of OnStar, a smart mirror inside GM cars that stores data on driving. “In order to provide that, we have to put in a SIM card. But it has to be registered to someone,” says Mr Middlehurst. “[Registered] to whom? The car seller? The car manufacturer? The driver? This is a machine-to-machine environment. As soon as I drive over a border, what happens when we drive to another country?”

Several participants called on ITU to help bring together the relevant stakeholders to discuss these issues in order to harmonize policies so that more people worldwide can benefit from IoT without worrying about the misuse of their data.

“The industrial Internet”

In the meantime, Germany may have an important role to play, says Axel Pols, Managing Director of Bitkom Research.

“One of my favourite topics these days is ’the industrial Internet’ or ’Internet 4.0’ in Germany,” Pols said. “We believe we have a topic emerging from Europe, Germany in particular. Can we use German strength in engineering to shape the Internet in the future? What will be the balance between European manufacturing strength and US and Asian innovation?”

Certainly, ITU will be watching thought leadership emerging from Germany as it continues to foster global coordination on this topic.


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No.6 November | December 2015

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By Silvia Guzmán, Chairman, ITU Focus Group for Smart Sustainable Cities