June 6, 2017

The Internet of Things Connectivity Binge: What Are the Implications?

Theme 3: Risk is part of life. The Internet of Things will be accepted, despite dangers, because most people believe the worst-case scenario would never happen to them

A number of participants in this canvassing noted that humans possess an inherent optimism bias when measuring risk versus reward. While they understand that connected platforms and devices can lead to negative outcomes, they figure the bad stuff will happen to someone else or, if they suffer in some regard, they will still land on their feet.

The cost of breaches will be viewed like the toll taken by car crashes, which have not persuaded very many people not to drive.
Richard Adler

Eduardo Villanueva-Mansilla, associate professor of communications at Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú, wrote, “The wonders of the IoT will prevail even against the risks. Experience shows that most consumers tend to ignore the risks unless they happen to them, and even when something bad happens to anyone they tend to prefer to return to their old practices since they are accustomed to them. … The risks of the IoT seem farther away from consumers than the everyday risks of getting mugged, so unless there are massive losses of money the problems will be incorporated into everyday risk assessment and forgotten in favor of the benefits.”

David Durant, a business analyst in the UK Government Digital Service, said, “Even if there is a ‘mass hack’ of such platforms people will very quickly return to using them in the same way they returned to airplane or subway travel following terrorist attacks.”

Adrian Hope-Bailie, standards officer at Ripple, said, “The allure of better services will always be stronger than the fear of the risks. … There will be breaches and dips in trust but the overall trend will be strong growth.”

Richard Adler, distinguished fellow at the Institute for the Future, replied, “Despite continued security problems, the IoT will spread and people will become increasingly dependent on it. The cost of breaches will be viewed like the toll taken by car crashes, which have not persuaded very many people not to drive.”

An anonymous professor at New York University wrote, “Compare automobiles, which reliably kill tens of thousands and injure millions of people every year in the U.S. alone. Now ask yourself how many people opt out of owning a car.”

An anonymous research officer said, “People are willing to embrace life-altering technologies as long as the risks of use seem reasonably mitigated. This is true for everything from planes and existing automobiles to cellphones and debit cards.”

David Sarokin, author of “Missed Information: Better Information for Building a Wealthier, More Sustainable Future,” said, “I can certainly see the emergence of a ‘Live Unplugged’ movement – people who get mostly or completely offline, motivated in part by concerns for safety, but probably more for a desire to live the simple life. But unplugging from the internet will be even more difficult than unplugging today from the power grid. People will do it, but not in huge numbers. The fact that hundreds of millions of credit card files have been stolen from major companies hasn’t seemed to affect credit card use in any significant way (other than spurring the use of those dammed chips). I expect people will respond with similar equanimity (or is it resignation?) as other issues emerge.”

An anonymous respondent observed, “We are quite capable of compartmentalizing life, holding opposed thoughts in our minds with an easy satisfaction. Think, for instance, of people who complain about technology, while driving cars, flying in planes, being mended by laser surgery, etc. Or consider creationists who fail to eschew the products of modern science. We should therefore expect to see people shunning one aspect of the Internet of Things, while continuing to use networked devices for others. I’ll get mad at people spamming my fridge, but still use Twitter to complain about it. Someone else will be disturbed by ads coming from their car’s tires, yet still drive the vehicle to meet the date they met online. There’s just too much of modern life immersed in the digital world to give it up.”

Garland McCoy, president of the Technology Education Institute, observed, “Cyberwars will rage at the edge of the electric grid for some time, causing massive disruption. But in the end, as bumpy as the ride will be, people will accept the significant benefits of an always-on, connected life.”

An anonymous professor at a polytechnic university wrote that people assume “the net benefits will outweigh the harms. We have seen how individuals sign hundreds if not thousands of ‘terms of agreement’ without reading them, how people give up personal data for enjoyable or useful services (Facebook, ‘Pokemon Go,’ etc.). People want to trust institutions and products.”

An anonymous respondent commented, “Most users are going to assume (perhaps correctly) that they aren’t going to be high-value targets for that kind of crime and will not worry too much about it. The pressure to increase that connectivity will likely increase and it’ll just get even more onerous to disconnect from it. If you need to buy a TV, and all but one model are smart TVs, and most of the smart TVs make it really hard to not connect to the internet, most people are going to end up with a smart TV connected to the internet whether or not they actually wanted that.”

An anonymous computer scientist observed, “Most people don’t know or care much about the risks, however well known. Look at how they eat, if you want evidence. The biggest risks are ‘tail risks’ of rare outlier events (e.g., a war in which your digital infrastructure and data is damaged, destroyed or taken over).”

Some respondents draw on history’s lessons to make the point that people embrace new and valuable things, even when there are risks involved. An anonymous system administrator said, “Accidents will always happen and they will be contained only by the actual interface between humans and their artificial environment. For instance, electrical networks are quite dangerous but they have all kinds of fuses and fail-safes to prevent massive disasters. The digital systems that don’t provide damage-limiting features will disappear. Not until after creating some disasters, of course.”

An anonymous respondent replied, “Minor comforts in day-to-day lives beat basic safety. There was a decades-long lag between the introduction of cars and well-enforced speed limits, it took more decades for sober driving, and even more for basic safety items like seatbelts. People drove anyway.”

Giacomo Mazzone, head of institutional relations at the European Broadcasting Union, commented, “Despite the growing number of incidents and hackings and problems related to IoT, the connected world will continue to grow. It will be like at the beginning of the introduction of cars. Society – in exchange for the advantages – will raise its level of tolerance and accept a higher number of accidents.”

Dave Kissoondoyal, CEO of KMP Global, said, “The Internet of Things will make all connected. As the users and the providers have influenced the development of the technology and non-technology aspects of the internet, the Internet of Things will go through the same process. As more and more people have been trusting … the internet and connecting to it, the same will apply to the Internet of Things.”

People will complain about the risks but feel helpless to avoid them.
Anonymous journalist and author

An anonymous researcher at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology said, “Given previous reactions to security issues, it seems like users’ tolerance towards threats is rather high. However, there is also a chance of a ‘Data Fukushima,’ a drastic event like the [Edward] Snowden leaks, that might lead to a new ‘offline movement.’”

An anonymous respondent observed, “Whether one chooses to disconnect or not, they’re still impacted in the event of major cyberattacks (e.g., power grid, SCADA [supervisory control and data acquisition] systems, etc.). That aside, if people are taking a more narrow personal view (e.g., is ‘my’ smart TV or car going to get hacked), it feels like an odds game – the chances that I would get singled out in a group of millions is small (and therefore why not just be deeply connected).”

A number of experts pointed out that most people don’t understand the risk, which makes it impossible for them to accurately gauge risk versus reward.

An anonymous IT architect at IBM replied, “Most people will unwittingly embrace the Internet of Things because, frankly, they are too uninformed (and in some cases too stupid) to know any better. We already have auto manufacturers selling vehicles that must be accessed via proprietary, un-testable protocols, which are highly vulnerable to hacking. When will people wake up? I refuse to drive a vehicle with any sort of troubleshooting interface beyond a strictly physical one. I plan to buy a non-‘smart’ refrigerator and dishwasher soon so that I’ll be able to maximize my use of them before one cannot buy a disconnected appliance. I do not need to install some app on a smartphone and remotely actuate my dishwasher. Sorry folks. I do not need to see how many ice cubes were ejected on a given day. This is just inane. Worse, I cannot trust the manufacturers of such devices not to send information back to the mother ship. Information such as frequency of use could easily correlate with absence from the home, such as for vacation. That is, if one’s live vacation pictures posted to Facebook don’t tip off perpetrators first.”

Tim Norton, chair of Digital Rights Watch, wrote, “I don’t think it will cause people to disconnect for the simple reason that generally, people are not aware of what the ramifications of attacks on IoT devices are.”

Don Philip, a retired lecturer, replied, “Most people will be more deeply connected than they are today, partly because they will be unaware of the potential threats posed by the poor security that currently surrounds the Internet of Things. Physical damage could include traffic disruptions and attacks on homes and hospitals. Physical systems like traffic lights and hospital instruments could be shut down. Governments could act to make things more secure, but, based on current patterns, will probably work hard to install spyware and back doors, making things much more insecure. Technologists will be forced to go along. While it’s theoretically possible to make physical IoT objects safer the vast majority of the time, as noted above, governments will work to subvert this, making things very insecure indeed.”

An anonymous respondent commented, “People will become more connected. It is easier than ever to ignore reality and immerse yourself in what you want to see with the internet. People are good at choosing ignorance and staying ignorant, and threats against the digital life many treasure is something many will choose to remain ignorant of until it’s too late and staring them in the face.”

An anonymous journalist, editor and author wrote, “People will complain about the risks but feel helpless to avoid them.”