The Internet of Things: Why Decentralization Must Be the Next Step
The Internet of Things: Why Decentralization Must Be the Next Step
See why decentralization is critical to protect data in an increasingly connected world.
Join the DZone community and get the full member experience.Join For Free
Whether we’re at home, at work, or out and about, we are constantly surrounded by a multitude of internet-connected devices, day in and day out. Gen X, Millennials, and Gen Z are especially hungry for connectivity, and with countless gadgets coming on to the market each week, it is now a prerequisite that every new device have smart capabilities. Internet connectivity has been introduced into every walk of life. For almost every gadget we carry with us or every item of clothing we wear, there exists or will soon exist, an IoT version seamlessly connected to a network of other devices.
(Side) Effects of IoT
Every aspect of our lives can be enhanced by IoT technology integrated with invaluable data. Whether we’re saving energy and money through the use of smart thermostats, improving transport efficiency with GPS, or making our homes and streets safer with alarms and surveillance systems, there is a multitude of use cases and benefits.
However, although a hyper-connected world can have world-changing positive effects, there are of course worrying downsides. We already feed our computer, phone, and now home help devices like Amazon’s Alexa, with billions of pieces of information every day. This is often deeply personal data, which is then often distributed largely beyond our control and reach.
Our mobile phones, for one, have inherent capabilities to track and log information about our browser habits, location information, and with growing popularity, your biological identity including your retina and facial ID.
People agree to the Terms and Conditions and fly past the Privacy Policies, not considering how this information can be used beyond the cute face filters on your social media app. As the security expert Mikko Hyppönen famously put it: “The biggest lie on the internet is'‘I have read and agree to the terms and conditions.'” They really haven’t.
The Risks of Data Centralization
This information is collected and passed around by third parties through apps that you use, for example, to research companies and advertisers, unbeknownst to us. These practices have drawn scrutiny recently, with Verizon and a number of other mobile carriers bowing to pressure and finally agreeing to stop selling real-time user location data to third-party brokers.
Another issue with the mass harvesting of data by corporations is that it is most often stored on centralized servers, leaving a greater potential for hacks and leaks and posing a great risk to the security of our information. The risks of centralized data storage were highlighted by the enormous Experian data leak in December 2017, which exposed the data of approximately 123 million American households.
What’s more, this information is largely owned and controlled by a handful of global corporations, and stored in their data centers where it further contributes to building our individual consumer profiles. Companies are fiercely protective of this data, which is contrary to the goals of the connected, IoT-enabled smart society, where data flows freely.
To put it another way, centrally administered networks prevent the discovery of data, halting society from fully optimizing everyone’s information for the greater good. As a result of this centralized approach, the situation today is that data is trapped in non-interoperable silos.
While the individual companies that control these data silos are profiting from this arrangement at present, initiatives like interconnected smart cities aren’t going to get off the ground with such foundations.
Driving Innovation Through Decentralization
One way to achieve interoperability is through setting up decentralized architecture. Fluid interoperability was one of the primary reasons for the rampant success of the web.
The alternative, say, being able to only email users using the same platform like Gmail or Outlook, or only being able to view websites that were specific to each browser like Safari or Netscape, would never have been as successful or influential to building the world as we know it. (Of course, the mobile app ecosystem has usually placed convenience above interoperability in this regard). Like the early web, devising interoperable architecture will be crucial to driving innovation in Smart Cities. While the current real-time data economy, which is primarily centered around the financial sector, can exist in its own world because it is narrowly focussed, smart cities will comprise countless connected devices, from wearables to connected appliances and cars, and much more besides. And all of these devices will need to be networked and talking to each other for us to fully experience the advantages that such an interconnected environment can offer.
Imagine a world where information flows freely and artificial intelligence, fed by this free flow of information, makes our lives far more convenient. So many things could be entirely automated: paying for tolls, road maintenance, finding parking, filling the fridge, settling insurance claims, car repairs, would be streamlined, while initiatives such as easing pollution and traffic levels, and planning new cities would become far easier to implement.
But these outcomes are only possible if neutral platforms provide a sense of collective ownership and we utilize open source code. Doing both these things will contribute to driving innovation by encouraging both minor and major tech players to invest their resources without having to worry that the technology will disappear if one organization moves away from the project, or about the possibility of one company changing the rules of engagement to exclude smaller innovative players. In addition, all of this development can take place without a central authority controlling the data in the network or claiming the profit from it.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, decentralization provides individuals with the ability to exert direct control over their data rather than allowing it to be manipulated by corporations who claim sole ownership of it. This ethos is central to the design of Streamr’s Network and Marketplace, which aim to return data ownership to the people who create it in the first place and give them the opportunity to monetize it on an ongoing basis.
With this in mind, if leaders in the IoT space truly want to realize their own visions of an hyper-interconnected world, then a decentralized architecture is the clear choice and the only viable way forward.
Opinions expressed by DZone contributors are their own.