Originally, this was going to be a post about mental health.

In seminar, a brief mention by a classmate of using in-home sensors to alleviate some of the checking behavior associated with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder got me thinking about how much good the Internet of Things could do for a whole manner of mental health conditions, from monitoring panic attacks to dealing with severe stress, dementia, or even schizophrenia through behavior tracking, medication reminders, and alerts to health services.

While I was considering what a positive development that would be for society, another thought crept in to my mind; one’s mental health is very much in the realm of private information. Our mental health is information we might not necessarily want a company or government to know. Additionally, this is the rare sort of information that they are unlikely to have unless a person struggling with their mental health enters state management or exposes the information explicitly. This loss of privacy would be quite drastic; our most sensitive information now easily available online, in exchange for a more convenient treatment. In some cases it might be worth it. In others, perhaps not.

From here, I made one more thought leap; whether or not it is worth it doesn’t matter. The upsides of the internet of things, from convenience to productivity increases, are in most cases fairly immediate. We can see right away that our refrigerator has reordered mustard when we ran out, or increased crop yields from sensor optimized farming. The downsides, from lost privacy to Distributed Denial of Service attacks on infrastructure to the disappearance of our last modicums of independence, are either further in the future or unnoticeable on an everyday basis, or both. As humans, we tend toward instant gratification (source; the mere existence of Buzzfeed.) We will choose the convenience, even if we do so warily.

But here is the crux of my argument; the fact that the internet of things is inevitable is in some ways liberating. If we try to push back for the sake of privacy or any other myriad reason, less scrupulous innovators will run by us and give the consumers the convenience they so desire. A September 2017 study of consumers found that 48% would be willing to allow a device to order a product on their behalf. That’s a decent market share, and it will only continue to grow; the same study found younger generations far more comfortable with internet connected devices than their predecessors.

This inevitability makes the case for skeptics to stop pushing back against the IoT and instead jump in wholeheartedly with an eye toward creating a culture of security within the technology as it evolves. It is my personal opinion that it is far too late to stop the internet of things from spreading throughout societies around the globe; I do not, however, think that it is too late for us to incorporate more security into the technology as a whole. This could include government regulation or private innovation, and everything from firewalls to encryption to stricter policies around data use authorization. We might even try programs in school about internet ‘hygiene’ and how to keep one’s private data private.

If we can manage to improve our security culture, the internet of things could bring innovations and convenience to every sector of the economy and life. If we don’t manage to prioritize privacy, well, the internet of things will be here anyway. It will arrive dangerous and with great downsides, but it will arrive. I hope we will have the foresight to choose the former version of the future.


  1. Jim Waldo

    October 6, 2017 @ 12:15 am


    Great post, with great questions…

    I (mostly) agree that the connection of lots of things to the Internet is inevitable. I’m not so sure I share your optimism that we can do this in a way that makes security something that is built in. Security is something that, if it works, is never noticed, so it makes it hard to use it as a selling point. I’m more afraid that we will have an expansion of devices on the Internet, used for all sorts of things, and then think about security when something really bad happens (at which point it may well be too late).

    I hope you are right. I fear that I am…

  2. profsmith

    October 8, 2017 @ 4:25 pm


    I think you’re spot on, Hannah. The immediacy effects will always trump the delayed downside effects. But how do you slow down the designers, who focus on immediate gratification for customers, and get them to include security features that may limit the immediacy gains? If my product designers include security features but my competitor’s designers do not, I’ll probably lose in the marketplace unless the customers learn to weigh what you describe. This is the quandary that faces us, and I hope smart people in your generation, like yourself, figure out what my generation hasn’t.

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