Ever since the launch of Friendster, the internet has been used to connect people on a large scale. It started with humans interacting, building bonds, and expressing emotions. During this time, if you wanted to step away from the internet, you logged off your computer or put down your phone, went outside, read a book, went shopping, did your laundry. Now inanimate objects are using it to communicate with each other. These objects can hear us, have hardware that can sense the temperature, the amount of ambient light, or even if you’re home or not. They have crossed the bounds of being lines of code or algorithms and actually joined us in the real world.
The term Internet of Things (or IoT) was coined in 1999 by Kevin Ashton during a presentation about using RFID tags to track supplies using the internet. But what are they in the present day?
Your smartphone is probably your most ubiquitous IoT device. It has multiple sensors and can use a network to talk to other devices and has become the hub that most people control and interact with other IoT devices.
Smart thermostats and lighting save us electricity while making our lives easier. They even work alongside your smartphone to know when you’ve left home and can trigger the thermostat to save energy and your lights to turn off. Many thermostats also utilize AI and machine learning to adjust your heating and cooling based on the current weather and your personal preferences.
Your smartwatch can detect if your heart rate is too low or too high and can notify you and emergency services if needed. It can sense when you haven’t stood up for a while and remind you to stretch your legs, track your sleep and connect with other devices like your thermostat and lighting to make waking more natural and gentle.
Intelligent OBD 2 diagnostic readers can supply an older car with wifi, GPS, notifications of a disturbance, and read your check engine errors while keeping track of maintenance.
Starting around 2009, IoT became a force to be reckoned with. Around that time, IoT devices outgrew the number of humans using the web, and a couple of years later, we switched from IPV 4 to IPV 6. IPV stands for Internet Protocol, which allows every internet-connected device to have its own unique address. IPV 4 used 32 bit addressing, allowing for a little over 4 billion addresses, but it was soon understood we would need more, and IPV 6 brought 128 bit addressing, which is… a large amount.
“We could assign an IPV6 address to every atom on the surface of the Earth, and still have enough addresses left to do another one hundred plus Earths” -Steven Leibson, technology and marketing consultant
We’re constantly feeding these devices data, from facial recognition to listening to our conversations. Some insurance companies are even giving out free smartwatches to track your health to determine if you’re even healthy enough to insure, which is not in your best interest at all. As more devices become able to connect and share data, we have to worry about surveillance.
Amazon recently had a quiet rollout of a new feature called Sidewalk that creates small public networks made by Echo speakers and Ring devices like smart doorbells and home security devices, basically creating mini mesh networks that can stay connected even if your internet goes down. The controversial part is your personal internet will be shared with your neighbors, so if one of you has an internet outage, you’ll still be able to get updates from your respective devices.
They claim that it will help devices work better and extend the coverage for Sidewalk-enabled devices. Sidewalk can also connect to pet trackers and location tracking devices like Tile trackers to help the user locate lost animals and personal belongings. Most new users are bound to overlook this feature unless they’ve done their reading or delved into the privacy settings of their devices. Amazon also enabled this by default, and users have to personally opt-out if worried about privacy. While Amazon has issued statements and papers outlining the security around Sidewalk, one should pause before choosing to keep this feature active if your privacy is a concern.
While we are in desperate need of regulations for IoT devices, they’re definitely here to stay. They’re already enriching our lives, but it’s up to consumers to demand to know what data is being collected from them and how it’s being used.