What is IoT?

What is the Internet of Things, and why might we research it?

We are researching how families interact with IoT. But, what is IoT?

IBM describes it as:

…the concept of connecting any device (so long as it has an on/off switch) to the Internet and to other connected devices

What does that look like in the home?

There seems to be an ever-increasing range of Internet-connected devices available in the home.

  • Voice Assistants
  • Smart TVs
  • Smart Locks
  • Smart Doorbells
  • Fitness Trackers
  • Some Smart Toys
  • Smart Thermostats
  • Smart Fridges
  • Smart Scales
  • Smart Meters
  • Smart Plugs…

The list goes on and on.

Internet-connected devices may also be known as smart devices. This is because of the device’s use of data.

Smart devices typically use a variety of sensors to collect data about the user, which, coupled with machine learning or other technologies, can improve the device’s performance in a number of ways. It is quite likely that the data that the device collects is processed online (in The Cloud).

Why would we spend time researching this?

These devices can pose a number of interesting issues for the user, the device manufacturers, and a country’s policymakers.

IoT devices often sit in the background, collecting data all the time. That quickly adds up to a lot of data!

When asked IoT users say they often don’t seem to mind - if they know - about the massive amounts of data being collected on them. It’s hard, as a user, to understand what data is collected, and what the effect of that data collection is. However, it has been shown that you can create really detailed patterns about a person’s life with the data that these devices collect.

Increasingly, things that we rely upon for safety, security, and everyday life are becoming connected to the Internet. This raises interesting - and maybe difficult - questions of what happens if devices break, or lose data. What happens to your electricity bill if all your electricity usage information is lost? What happens if your smart lock fails - does it lock everyone in, or leave all the doors open? What happens if someone decides to mess with your smart thermostat? If your child smashes your smart plug? And how much of your smart home can you control if you don’t have a smartphone?

There are a number of steps that you can take to secure the devices that you own. This may not make them infallible, but it is a start to making them as secure as they are able to be.

If you don’t know what to think about a particular device, Mozilla has compiled a creepiness list of Internet-connected devices as part of their Privacy Not Included project.