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My new Locus column is What If People Were Sensors, Not Things to be Sensed?

The column’s argument is that the Facebook model for the IoT is a nightmare: your devices are emissaries of distant corporations that gather data on you and decide what information to derive from it and to feed back to you.

But there’s another model: things that belong to you, that monitor your life on your behalf, keeping the data to themselves. When a company wants to interact with your network and devices, it sends your network a message, and your network decides whether to pay attention to it. You are a person being served by the Internet of Things, not a thing being managed by a cluster of devices that see you as an ambulatory wallet to be A/B split into penury.

It’s good product design, it’s good ethics, and it’s a good business-model.

Imagine a location service that sold itself on the fact that your personal information was securely contained in its environs, used by you and you alone. You could have devices on your person that used their sensors to know things about you – when you last ate, what your dining preferences are, what your blood-sugar is, and so on, but these devices would have no truck with the cloud, and they would not deliver that information to anyone else for analysis.

Instead, as you passed through space, stores, toilets, restaurants, grocers and other entities would emit information about their offerings. These would be seen and analyzed by your personal network, and it would decide, on your behalf, whether to tell you about them, based on the preferences you’ve set, or that it’s learned from you. The fact that you’ve been shown some piece of information would be between you and the computers you own, and – again – shared with no one.

It’s the opposite of the Facebook model, where Facebook owns all the feeds and decides which one you’re allowed to see. This is more like the email model, where your systems download all the messages someone wants to send you, then use your own filters and rules to decide which ones to discard and which ones to display.

This gets even more crucial in the medical sensing and implant world. Today, med-tech companies talk about the kinds of important facts we’ll be able to learn about rare diseases once we can collect longitudinal, deep, granular data on the biological histories of people who contract them. If you get a weird cancer, the doctor will be able to contact the company that sold you the gadget and trawl through your health history to rewind your body through its whole past, looking for clues about how you ended up with your current problems.

But if there’s one thing we’ve learned about huge repositories of sensitive data, it’s that they leak. From Sony to the Office of Personnel Management to Hacking Team to Ashley Madison, they all leak eventually. Putting a bunch of valuable stuff in one place makes it an irresistible target – and then there’s the obvious question: why would all that data need to be held by the manufacturer of your implant, anyway? Why shouldn’t it live in your implant, or your personal network?

What If People Were Sensors, Not Things to be Sensed? [Locus Magazine]