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Exploring the Neglected Morality of IoT

Feature Article | August 7, 2015 by Derek Klobucher

Andy Greenberg was cruising at 70 mph (113 kph) when the connected car he was driving suddenly began blasting frigid air, hip hop music and wiper fluid. He wasn’t even touching any of the controls — but he was being hacked.

“As the two hackers remotely toyed with the air-conditioning, radio and windshield wipers, I mentally congratulated myself on my courage under pressure,” Greenberg stated on WIRED.com. “That’s when they cut the transmission.”

Connecting cars, medical instruments and other devices to the Internet can prove very useful, alerting experts and authorities when lives and systems are in danger. But security breaches, such as the one that left Greenberg powerless behind the wheel, illustrate the need to look beyond the hype, examining far-reaching implications of the Internet of Things (IoT).

Just Because We Can Doesn’t Mean We Should

“Often the morality question comes too long after,” Skookum Digital Works CSO Josh Oakhurst said in The Denver Post. “We should think about what should be connected, what data should be transmitted from our daily lives.”

Not every portable object needs to communicate with other devices, The Denver Post noted, and users don’t always employ the numerous security solutions that are already available for IoT devices. There are also privacy issues associated with wearable devices that gather personal data.

Fitbit data showed up in court to help an injured personal trainer show she is less active,” The Denver Post stated. “It could also go the other way.”

Making the Rules

Even if we focus only on the positive, devices could use this personal data to predict how we might behave, determine whether or not we’re injured, or just recommend we take umbrella when we leave the house, computer science Prof. Peter McOwan stated last year. That means doing more than just setting boundaries for devices.

“Intelligent devices also need some understanding of these rules for us to be able to interact with them as naturally as possible,” McOwan said. “Once a device is able to offer opinions or take actions as well as carry out its main function, we start to consider it differently.”

Greenberg was in on the hack that shut down his ride at highway speeds. But the incident highlights the need to set the ground rules for IoT morality and ethics now — while we’re still in the driver’s seat.

Follow Derek on Twitter: @DKlobucher

This story originally appeared on SAP Business Trends.

Photo: Shutterstock

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