Internet of Things

For the future to work, tech needs to bare all

Internet of Things_man with globe and dollars

Closed systems won't cut it in the Internet-of-Everything future.

As connected devices permeate global society, user data (from smartphone activity to Fitbit stats) and even lives (hello, car hacking) are at increasing risk. At a Nov. 10 summit sponsored by the Advanced Technology Academic Research Center, Federal Communications Commission CIO David Bray said the hyper-connected future might not work without radical openness.

The Internet of Everything "will challenge the notion of borders," Bray said. As the Gutenberg printing press revolutionized European thought hundreds of years ago, a world of connected devices and people will require countries and organizations to rethink structures from the bottom up.

And people will increasingly need assurances about how the devices with which they live are tracking them.

Bray said organizations might want to issue policies about user access to their data that are separate from terms-of-service agreements. As it stands, people rarely have the choice of rejecting terms of service, which are subject to change at any time.

He cited the FCC's Speed Test app, which was meant to monitor Internet connection speeds, as an example of how organizations can use openness to gain users' trust.

"This was late 2013," he said. "If you remember the events of the summer of that year, how much success would I have saying, 'Hi, I'm with the government. Would you like to download this app to your phone? It will actually monitor your connection speed and send the results back to the government.'"

To assuage people's concerns, Bray said, the FCC bared all.

"We made it open source so that people could actually check the code and see the algorithm," he said.

The average Joe, of course, didn't pore over the code, but trusted third parties could do so and certify that the app wasn't part of a nefarious surveillance scheme, Bray added.

Michael Valivullah, CTO at the Agriculture Department's National Agricultural Statistics Service, agreed that showing people technology's guts is a good way to promote trust and adoption.

"When the models are a black box, [if] the users -- usually the marketing, financial and retail users, business users -- don't understand the models, if they don't understand the algorithm, they are not going to use the output because they don't trust that," he said.

Amid all that openness, of course, creators still need to be paid.

"The challenge then is can we have something like iTunes for algorithms, which allows the artists getting reimbursed for what they do, while at the same time people can actually use and reuse those algorithms across different devices," Bray said.

The government could have a particular role play as a sort of credit reporting agency. Bray said he believes people will soon want, and hopefully be able to get, the equivalent of a credit score that shows the data the U.S. government has collected on them.

And when it comes to procurement, the Internet of Everything is helping the government move away from proprietary systems.

"Ideally we're never in the business of trying to write code just because it doesn't make any sense," Bray said. "Open source is our first and foremost, de facto."

About the Author

Zach Noble is a former FCW staff writer.

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