Tony Sceales Tony Sceales Head of Programme Development - 5G Programme - Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport - UK Government

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IoT, Connected Cars and the end of your private life?

  • It is only a matter of time before all new cars are  fitted with cameras and telemetry devices, but I've been wondering considering what would be the trigger use cases that would drive mass adoption in existing vehicles.  I think I got at least one answer last weekend when I helped my early-twenties daughter to buy an insurance renewal online. 

    IoT - end of private life - Tony ScealesSearches on (other insurance comparison websites are available) came back with the first 10 or so offers requiring firstly a telemetry device to be fitted to the car, but also offering a discount if a windscreen camera was installed.  The discounts available were substantial - 20-30% and higher, and for a young person early in their career, hard to turn down.


    Telemetry in cars is not new - manufacturers have been collecting data about our use of them for quite a few years, and using it primarily to improve safety, comfort and their own marketing and sales effectiveness.  Every major car maker has invested massively in monitoring which features we use and don't use, how we drive and progressively taking more and more control over critical safety moments to help us avoid accidents.  


    Verizon Telematics has also shown how a major Telecoms service provider was willing to bet a chunk of the farm on the value of this market in terms of devices, data and surrounding services.  The first use case for that investment, and for Google's driverless car is improved safety on the roads - avoiding needless accidents due to driver error.  Saving lives in their thousands every year is a very strong incentive, one that is both morally beneficial and financially logical - the cost of disrupted, ruined and shortened lives from road accidents is very significant in the economy.


    Aviva has been running a telematics-based insurance plan for some years now, but I haven't seen a wider market adoption until now.  Insurance firms have previously relied on other factors - driving experience, claims history, geography, age, sex and profession to calculate risk, but have now recognised that monitoring actual driving behaviour can tell them a lot more about the person behind the wheel and their likelihood of having an accident.  


    The addition of the camera is another interesting dimension - and I'm sure we've all noticed an increasing number of cyclists and motorcyclists with cameras attached to helmets or handlebars.  These are of course for use in providing evidence in the event of an accident - but I'm sure there are other uses for the content generated in this way - traffic monitoring, adding real-time interest to map-browsing experience for instance.


    So we start to see the long-awaited pattern of convergence across traditional industry sector boundaries - Smart Cities are really picking up speed with projects such as Bristol the world's first programmable city - in the pursuit of combined social benefit but underpinned by economic gain.  As more and more aspects of life become digitally managed/monitored the digital footprint we leave becomes increasingly pronounced and indelible.  Turning this digital trail into cash is more complex than the old telecoms walled-garden type services which enabled them to print cash for so many years, but that is a subject for another post next month.


    Against this background, two incidents in the UK in the last few days must surely raise our natural suspicion that this is not necessarily all for our collective or individual good.  The first was the very public hacking of the TalkTalk systemsexposing private data (including bank and credit card details) of their customers.  This kind of event happens frequently all over the globe as organised crime, terrorists and the socially disengaged work ever harder to break down the fabric of our society - but it was still shocking to me that it exposed the TalkTalk, a major ISP had not even bothered to encrypt that sensitive data.  


    The second event is the new proposed law requiring all ISPs to retain browsing history from every user for 12 months.  It is clear that ministers and law enforcement officials have very real reasons for wanting to have this data, and that the defence of our nation depends on it - both from internal and external threats.  I don't doubt for a minute that this is extremely important, and indeed the first responsibility of government is to protect the state and citizens from attack.  The challenge is that once the data is stored - anywhere - it becomes a target for the kinds of attack TalkTalk suffered, and will inevitably be compromised at some time.


    It isn't that the ISPs are especially vulnerable or cavalier with our data - but once they have detailed information about our browsing behaviour, the hackers will go for them even more than they do today.  In their piece this week on the Digital Future, Gartner envisage scenarios emerging in the next couple of years where much more of our lives will be monitored and increasingly managed by machines, and in that world it is even more important that we understand both the benefits and the risks before exposing our citizens and customers to such services.


    Don't misunderstand me - I am a keen advocate of the Digital Economy and the widespread economic, societal and personal benefits that undoubtedly will come from increased connected-ness, and increased collaboration between companies, governments and individuals in real-time.  It is very clear that there are now strong business cases for enterprises to invest in the IoT, and many are doing so already - and are highly focused on monetising their efforts.  But at the same time I think it would be foolish to forget that most those on the dark side are also rubbing their hands with glee ($40bn annually is the best current estimate of online fraud).  Digital services open up opportunity for all - and we must have our eyes wide open to make sure that we keep our customers' data safe as we create and deliver the new services.  


    To that end, it is worth checking the service providers  responsible for your cloud infrastructure, platforms, devices and applications have thought hard about the assurance and protection of your business, and can help you navigate these fertile but potentially hazardous waters.

    Tony Sceales
    About Tony Sceales Tony Sceales works as Head of Programme Development - 5G Programme at Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport - UK Government
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