Think tank calls on regulators to think more positively about IoT

The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation's (ITIF) Center for Data Innovation, a non-partisan Washington think tank, released 10 guidelines that it says should drive how regulators think about the Internet of Things (IoT).

The guidelines came in conjunction with an event featuring Republican and Democratic U.S. senators who sent a letter in October to Commerce Committee leaders asking them to set an oversight hearing on the IoT before the end of this year. Event organizers said they recognize there's a huge potential IoT impact in industries like healthcare, transportation, energy and public safety, as well as major social issues.

The 10 guiding principles range from reducing regulatory barriers and delays for getting smart devices to market to using data to "tackle hard problems."

"The goal of this report is to give policymakers a framework for thinking through how they can use the tools at their disposal to promote the beneficial uses of this technology," said Daniel Castro, senior analyst at ITIF and director of the Center for Data Innovation. "If you look at the conversation in Washington around the Internet of Things, a lot of it's been focused on kind of the risks and the concerns.

"We think we need to change the conversation here," he said. "We need to be talking about how government can be an active partner in working with industry and working with the private sector and non-profits and academics to deploy this technology for useful purposes."

Last year, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) held a workshop covering IoT data and security issues. At the time, FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez spelled out concerns about privacy and security related to everything from home security systems to wireless medical and fitness devices. She noted that the IoT facilitates the collection of vast amounts of user data, opens that data up to new uses unexpected by most consumers, and puts users at a greater security risk.

The ITIF purports that such focus on the negative is too much of a downer. Castro suggests the FTC address actual scenarios rather than hypothetical privacy infringements that may or may not play out. "It's easier to talk about hypothetical concerns," he told Ad Age. "I think the FTC should be a little bit clearer on what they'd like to see… You want it to be really clear what companies should be doing."  

During a panel focusing on smart cities, Hilary Cain, director of technology and innovative policy at Toyota, said the United States is behind other nations when it comes to roadside infrastructure for things like vehicle-to-infrastructure communications. In Japan, there's been a very strong commitment from the government to deploy this type of infrastructure. Vehicle-to-infrastructure technology was deployed there in 2009, she said.  

From a marketing or commercialization standpoint, it makes sense to have vehicle-to-infrastructure communication first rather than vehicle-to-vehicle because so few cars are equipped for the latter, she said. If there's infrastructure equipped to exchange information with the vehicle, the benefits are immediate.

In the U.S., there's no infrastructure for the vehicles to communicate with. "We're seeing a buildout of infrastructure in Michigan right now" through a collaboration of several entities. "I think we're going to have to see more of those sorts of pilot programs that are joint, federal and local efforts, build out a number of these pilot cities or regions, show consumers the benefit, show city officials the benefit of this type of infrastructure and hopefully spur further development of it."

The ITIF board includes a range of Republican and Democratic leaders, as well as industry representatives, such as Adam Kovacevich, director, U.S. public policy and issues at Google, and Lisa Malloy, director of policy communications at Intel.

"Though many of the changes to everyday devices may be subtle and go unnoticed by consumers, the long-term effect could ultimately have an enormously positive impact on individuals and society," wrote Castro and Joshua New, policy analyst at the Center for Data Innovation, in the policy paper. "A connected world is capable of anything from improving personal health to reducing pollution to making industry more productive. The Internet of Things offers solutions to major social problems, but this vision of a fully connected world will not be achieved without initiative and leadership from policymakers to promote its deployment and avoid pitfalls along the way."

For more:
- see the 10 policy principles (.PDF)
- see this Advertising Age article
- see The Christian Science Monitor video

Related articles
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Home automation, connected car pushing IoT, but lack of standards stings, execs say
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