The “Internet of Things” (IoT) is on a trajectory to significantly change the way we live our lives. The concept of connecting any device to the Internet that can be connected to the Internet is already showing impact on production, manufacturing, distribution and the end user around the globe. However, the effect on the world’s poor and rural communities has the potential to feel the greatest impact. As device connectivity opens the door to technological innovations, it enables developing countries to enter the global economy and therefore pull a huge populace out of poverty.
There are many ways that IoT can benefit the world’s poor. The team at Accion’s Frontier Investment’s Group, an early-stage VC that invests in innovative financial inclusion startups, recently wrote an article outlining how IoT is assisting those in Third World countries. Machine-to-Machine (M2M) communication, a foundational piece for IoT, is providing unique payment opportunities for those not connected to electrical and institutional infrastructure. An example is solar-powered lighting. The upfront costs of such a device is prohibitive to those in poor areas however, a simple SIM chip and mobile phone make the possibility of micro-payments, on-demand, a viable option. Prepaid utilities are another variation of M2M enabled payments. Through smart meters, people can prepay for access to electricity via mobile phones thereby creating a chain of efficiencies and optimizations that run from electrical supplier, to energy infrastructure management to end user.
While these solutions are extremely valuable, they beg the question, “Where does consumer privacy fit in?” When machines share the activities and interconnections of an individual with other machines, the digital footprint of that person instantly magnifies. Their location, their preferences, their interactions, when taken as a whole, provides valuable insights into that person’s life. Insights that can be used for “evil” or “good”, depending on whose hands the information falls into.
What are your thoughts on consumer privacy in a digitally networked world?