Back in 1999 Kevin Ashton, the British technology pioneer and cofounder of Auto-ID Center at MIT (creators of the global standard system for radio-frequency identification (RFID)), coined the term, the Internet of Things, to describe “uniquely identifiable objects (things) and their virtual representations in an internet-like structure.” Put simply, the Internet of Things refers to networks of everyday objects such as phones, car and household appliances which are wirelessly connected to the internet through smart chips, and can collect and share data.
Now, well over a decade later, the European Commission has issued an online questionnaire which seeks views on the future regulation of the Internet of Things. The Commission sees both opportunity and threat from the exponential growth of interconnected networks, with 50 billion wirelessly connected devices predicted by 2020: “The Internet of Things holds the promise of significant progress in addressing global and societal challenges and to improve daily life. It is also a highly promising economic sector for sustainability, growth, innovation and employment. But it is likely to have a profound impact on society, in areas like privacy, security, ethics, and liability.”
Predicting a future where everyday objects are linked, the Commission has started to gather views on how best to design and shape a regulatory framework which operates in an open manner, enabling a level playing field, whilst ensuring an adequate level of control over the connected devices gathering, processing and storing information. Views on privacy, safety and security, security of infrastructure, ethics, interoperability, governance and standards are sought. Responses to the questionnaire are requested by 12 July 2012. The Commission’s recommendation on the Internet of Things is expected to be published by summer 2013.