Workshop report: Global Policy Debate on the Internet of Things: Internet of Things going ethical

On 24 and 25 July 2015 29 experts in the field of Internet of Things, innovation, standardization and global governance gathered to discuss “IOT going ethical” as to find a sustainable way ahead that would help create this “world we want”.

“IOT going ethical” is the response to today’s rapid developments where we want IOT to progress and at the same time avoid ending up in a world we would not want our children to live in. There was a hypothesis that in terms of communicating with the public, the level of knowledge about the Internet of Things is as advanced as the understanding about radio was in 1922. While not all speakers supported the comparison it was accepted that most people are uninformed and confused about the Internet of Things, as many people had been in the 1920s.

In terms of risk, much of the discussion concerned the difference between risk analysis and risk elimination. Risk cannot be eliminated and there is always some residual risk. The requirements for risk mitigation require that the systems be studied, risk identified, and mitigation designed. After that there can a decision on whether the residual risk was acceptable. In terms of ethical practice there is a need to try to balance social benefit with privacy risk.

With regard to ethics there was some discomfort with judging a sensor or other object in the IOT on an ethical basis because the ethical considerations were seen as relating to the technology in a context and not in isolation; though some objects might have ethical considerations even when in isolation, and were designed based on funding and project allocation often determined with political motive.

The meeting concluded that it is important to get a common understanding of what it takes to go forward with IOT in a sustainable way - what “ethical” in the sense of IoT means. This requires raising of awareness and education. In doing this, care needed to be taken to avoid alarmism, the kind of alarmism that cause frantic technological efforts and regulatory regimes to fix problems that may not actually exist. It is also necessary to provide the public with information in language that can be understood by those not involved in the IOT, whether they are Internet experts or not.


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The announcement of the workshop including the agenda can be found here.