The Social Internet of Things and an Old Can of Privacy Worms

The internet of things is coming. And then it will go social. As this video – posted in March 2011, almost 3 years ago! – from Ericsson (still a name then!) illustrates. Have a look:

Imagine a fridge that messages you to tell you that the milk expires today.
Looks great doesn’t it? And then the privacy issues will come in. Notice in the video, the man appears to have blocked his girlfriend from seeing his activity in order to surprise her (Video: 0’26”). So, you see, even in the future – we will still need lists and privacy settings. We’ll still have to make decisions about what we post, when and who will see it – for both good reasons as well as not-so-good reasons.

Just as people grapple with and complain about online privacy issues today, they will continue to struggle with balancing pros and cons as social expands beyond the mobile gadget and web browser. When your home or office knows your location, for example, you will have to think about who ought to know. If at all.

Imagine your sofa telling the TV to turn off because you’ve dozed off.
Now imagine: what about businesses? How will a typical business deal with the social internet of things? What will it be like, when your photocopier/printer, office desk, telephone, room, water cooler all become part of the internet of things? Would you welcome such a technology paradigm? The meeting room prepares itself for a presentation 15 minutes before a big meeting. The printer orders extra cartridges knowing that next week, a big report is due.

Imagine an office that arranges a meeting for 10 people in one-click
But: just like useful social apps on mobile phones, would we run into issues of having or giving out too much information? Would employees like the idea of their boss knowing when they are in the pantry? Would the boss like it if his employees knew exactly where he is all the time? When he arrives in the morning? Some would say this is useful information. I imagine a system that automatically arranges a meeting for X number of people based on knowing their needs, their schedule and location. Just tap YES to confirm. Productivity would shoot through the roof(?)!

Imagine a boutique that can find out the clothing sizes of customers who walk in.
But, at some point, people will start to say they’re uncomfortable with being findable anywhere, anytime. They don’t want to leave digital footprints – let alone social ones – in the office. Some will even say the internet of things is a security hazard – who knows if that WiFi-connected microwave is listening to discussions at the pantry?

Companies will balk. They will start to shy away. They will question. They will want to play safe. And then, they will simply say they don’t want any part of it. Networked machines will not be allowed in office.


The rest of the world will move on, especially among consumers and homes. Consumers will play with the social network of things. Yes they will complain about privacy issues too, but they’ll use it anyway, like smartphones and Facebook. Then one day, some companies will realize they are falling behind their customers. Companies which resist the advancing tide of consumer technology will realize that they don’t really understand the market. Just like how today, consumers are ahead of businesses in use of social. Consumers have higher expectations because they have more experience adopting social.

Businesses may recognize the need – they may try to design services which are social B2C, but because they do not adopt it internally, their appreciation is limited. It’s like how many businesses market to customers with social tools, but do not use social tools within the company.

We can be certain that the internet of things will come, and that it will become social. It will have privacy issues. It may even suffer the occasional massive hack/breach disaster. It will also have many as-yet undiscovered uses and advantages. We’ll have to use it to understand how to deal with it. Above all, we cannot use “Not a priority”, “No budget”, “Lack of management support” and other barriers that have long plagued implementation of social media as an excuse to hide from the reality that it is important. The future will only get more connected.


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