The IOT’s Journey from the Spy in the Cab to the Flat (Cow) Field

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“Hidden in the dashboard, the unseen mechanized eye. Under surveillance…Its sick function to pry…Coldly observing, callously reserving, a driver’s time; automated autonomy playing on his mind. The spy in the cab.”

As those of us around in the late 1970s and early 1980s can probably remember dystopia – like fear of nuclear war and big bad hair - was more or less everywhere. Arguably its most common form was Ballardian, articulated by many in contemporary literature and music, none more so than Pete Murphy, lead singer of UK indie band Bauhaus.  Sharp of cheekbone, and even sharper of opinion, Murphy’s world vista in seminal album In the Flat Fields was one of formed of alienation, darkness, death, decay and badly-applied eyeliner. The first side of the vinyl album – younger readers go Google - ended on a particularly baleful note with Murphy’s paean to the tachometer in The Spy in the Cab (as quoted above).

At the time in the UK at least the tachometer was seen as the future of road transport, adding automation and business process to an industry singularly devoid of such things. Murphy, like those behind the wheel, saw only the thin edge of the Big Brother wedge.

Hitting the accelerator – below the speed limit of course — from 1980 to now and real time driving information is regarded very differently. Something we can all benefit from.

This was clearly demonstrated at the recent Fujitsu Forum 2015, where among the vast array of security and general purpose computing solutions the IT giant had on display was a very broad offering of internet of things (IOT) products and services.

This was not the standard connected kettle and fridge type of display; Fujitsu stressed the business worthiness of its applications, offering some genuine and in some cases compelling use cases in particular as regards field and remote workers and also for workers in hazardous places. The technologies, including wearables, exemplified not only the real useful potential of the IOT, but also how far cab-based solutions had come from a tachometer. It demonstrated how drivers could be monitored not just for time spent making journeys  – yes, that primary element  has not disappeared in the rear view mirror – but also for real time heath data indicating fatigue and drowsiness etc.  In short the spy in the cab was now friend not foe, taking a number of key diagnostic readings and advising on optimum route to take before drivers had to stop. There were not many things that could not be sensed.

But this led to the glaring question: where was all this data being stored? And how securely?  Now this is not to say at all that Fujitsu was not aware of the security implications of putting out into the ether so much personal data. Quite the opposite, as Andy Herrington, the company’s head of cybersecurity services, told Infosecurity Magazine at Fujitsu Forum 2015.

But it is true that security is now being seen as the potential Achilles’ Heel of the IOT. In a recent blog post, Jason Sabin Chief Security Officer at DigiCert proposed that the today’s world sees a constant battle of information and identity between organizations and attackers trying to steal personal information that they can turn around and sell. Nowhere, he said, was the risk greater than with the exploding IoT market.

It was also picked up recently by Agathe Caffier Senior Counsel, International Operations & Privacy Specialist, DMI who argued that concerns about data collection are rising, both from a user and a collector point of view. She added that end users, whether they are employees or customers, are requesting a higher level of respect towards their privacy and putting forward more questions as to how and why their personal data is handled.

Just apply all of these concerns and issues to the use cases described above. What if a national regulator saw only the privacy issues and not the business benefits? Are indeed such IOT use cases totally at mercy of legislatures whose decisions could be as far reaching as they are unpredictable?

So will the friendly spy in the cab reach the end of the road at privacy? It could well do. But before anyone gets worried about intrusion, in particular drivers wired up to consoles in their vehicles, they may spare a thought for the participants in an IOT use case from the dairy industry also demonstrated by Fujitsu.

It seems that at optimum milking times, herds get all, well, frisky and just like ladies dancing to Bauhaus in 80s nightclubs, take small steps at increasing speed. Unhelpfully for dairy farmers this typically takes place at night. No worry: Fujitsu has developed IOT wireless sensors that can alert farmers exactly when this milk dance is taking place and so they know when to get an impregnating with…well one didn’t ask. It’s fair to assume that these unsuspecting users of IOT devices did not opt in to insertion of metal devices on their person. Poor cows.

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