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Jeff Rowe
Jeff Rowe
Jeffrey Rowe has almost 40 years of experience in all aspects of industrial design, mechanical engineering, and manufacturing. On the publishing side, he has written well over 1,000 articles for CAD, CAM, CAE, and other technical publications, as well as consulting in many capacities in the design … More »

Part 1: Is It Really Smart To Buy Totally Into IoT?

August 11th, 2016 by Jeff Rowe

For the past few years we all have heard a non-stop proclamation from a number of different sources that the Internet of Things (IoT) is the thing that will change everything and improve our lives in ways that are still unimaginable to us. That may be true, but relatively little attention is paid to the other side of the coin – what are some of the not so great things that could result from IoT? This darker side of IoT, of course, includes security, but how about data handling, infrastructure, privacy, and the inevitability of IoT companies going out of business. All of these issues are problems now and will only continue to escalate unless and until adequately addressed.

Believe me, I’m not alone with these concerns.

IoT Security

This time around I’ll cover IoT privacy and company survival. Next week I’ll cover IoT data handling and infrastructure.

On May 4, 2015, The Wall Street Journal ran a story that day entitled, “Dumb ‘Smart’ Gadgets: The Bubble Set to Burst,” by Christopher Mims. Among other things, he postulated, “One thing smart objects are definitely good for is surveillance of their users.” I agree, and think a growing number of us will become more concerned being under constant surveillance. That said, though, is there much we can really do about it? To a degree, yes; but to a larger degree, probably not, unless you’re willing to pay for everything with cash, call people from pay phones that accept coins, and get around by walking and biking. I doubt few of us will end up doing that, but it does make you think, doesn’t it?

Honestly, though, do you want to be constantly monitored, whether in your home, car, or any other place? I don’t either. Keep in mind, though, you’re already being constantly monitored if you own a cell phone or drive a car with a communications system, such as OnStar. For all the good things IoT might provide, I also see it potentially as intrusive as, for example, Progressive’s car insurance driving monitors that get you lower insurance rate if you install one in your car.

Top 3 Security Issues in Consumer Internet of Things (IoT) and Industrial IoT

That said, let’s start with mobile/cell phones that follow us wherever we go.

Mobile phone tracking refers to establishing the position of a mobile phone, whether stationary or moving. Localization can occur either via multi-lateration of radio signals between (several) radio towers of the network and the phone, or simply via GPS. To locate the phone using multilateration of radio signals, it must emit at least the roaming signal to contact the next nearby antenna tower, but the process does not require an active call.

The Global System for Mobile Communications is based on the phone’s signal strength to nearby antenna masts. Mobile positioning, which includes location-based services that disclose the actual coordinates of a mobile phone bearer, is a technology used by telecommunication companies to approximate the location of a mobile phone, and thereby also its user (bearer). The more properly applied term locating refers to the purpose rather than a positioning process. Such service is offered as an option of the class of location-based services (LBS)

Locating or positioning touches upon delicate privacy issues (and rightly so), since it enables someone to check where a person is without the person’s consent. Strict ethics and security measures are strongly recommended for services that employ positioning, and the user must give an informed, explicit consent to a service provider before the service provider can compute positioning data from the user’s mobile phone.

A phone’s location can be uploaded to a common website where one’s friends and family can view one’s last reported position. Newer phones may have built-in GPS receivers which could be used in a similar fashion, but with much higher accuracy. This is controversial, because data on a common website means people who are not “friends and family” may be able to view the information — not exactly a comforting thought.

Companies Going Out Of Business
In 2014, if you paid around $300 for Revolv’s smart home hub, you were probably pretty excited about its potential. After a few months of ownership, you got the bad news — the web service that powered the gadget shut down, rendering the thing effectively useless.

Revolv was a smart home startup that was acquired by Google’s home automation company Nest in October 2014 (now a part of the Google/Alphabet conglomerate). Revolv sold its hub for controlling a wide range of different gadgets, from lights to coffee pots, via a single smartphone app. The catch was that the hub depended on a cloud-based service to communicate with your smartphone. Once that cloud service shut down, you weren’t able to use the app to control anything. Money down the drain . . .

This example is especially unnerving because most IoT products are much more expensive than the “dumb” products that they replace. I for one don’t want to shell out a lot of money for a “smart” product from a company that may quit business in a matter of months. With so many companies getting into IoT, it’s impossible to predict which ones will thrive and which ones will disappear.

The number of applications available for my iPhone is over one million, yet the number of truly useful applications is probably in the hundreds (or less). This same ratio will probably hold true for IoT, as well. Lastly, will “smart” things make people dumb? I hope not, but then again, how many phone numbers have you memorized lately that you can remember?

IoT Security: The Ugly Truth, Mike Muller CTO, ARM

PTC Is IoT (In A good Way)
PTC is a prime example of a company that rightly realizes that “things” have evolved from just 3D objects to being smart and connected. These “things” are what PTC emphasizes in its IoT approach, as the new reality is a hybrid of the physical and digital — distinct, but inseparable. The “thing” and the customer’s roles are interchangeable, where one, the other, or both can act as the sensor. IoT also provides great potential for analytics and predictive behavior of products. This new reality comes down to technology platforms and enterprise applications that can provide business transformation, opportunities, and value.

Is PTC unique in this push for IoT? Hardly. Just about any industry you can name is showing increasing interest — hardware and software vendors, machine and medical device manufacturers — the list goes on and on, and we’re just in the initial phases of IoT platforms, but PTC is ahead of the curve on many fronts. Not to be left out, the CEO of networking giant, Cisco, Chuck Robbins, recently said one of his major goals as CEO is to make Cisco the No. 1 information-technology company in the world, partly by helping to connect all kinds of business and consumer devices. Needless to say, PTC is far from alone on the IoT frontier.

It’s clear that the Internet of Things is here to stay. We’re in the midst of a huge burst of IoT ideas, but many of them are destined to fail, by being either too specific or too disconnected from the context of our lives to have true significance. The Internet of Things and big data are two sides of the same coin, and building one without considering the other is a guaranteed recipe for disaster – and this is exactly what I’ll cover next week.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that IoT is doomed and ultimately destined to fail. IoT progress to this point has been great and future potential is even greater. At this point, though, I just fail to see it as the panacea it is being made out to be by several over-zealous vendors. I’m certain, though, that IoT will continue to provide greater and greater things. I’ll continue to be a smiling skeptic until at least some of the concerns outlined above are resolved. That may never happen, but until then, I’m reserving total buy in, as I’m sure many prospective customers are also doing.

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