Network neutrality is an IoT issue too

Network neutrality is an IoT issue too: This week the FCC issued an plan that would reverse the rules put in place during the last administration that prevent ISPs from discriminating against certain packets on their networks.

The network neutrality rules prevent your broadband provider from slowing down traffic from specific companies. The concern is that an ISP like Comcast might slow down competing TV traffic from Netflix (like it did in 2014). Or in the smart home, perhaps it would prioritize packets from its own home automation and security service as opposed to Nest’s.

I’ve spent almost a decade of my reporting career writing about the effort to first enshrine net neutrality into a formal regulation, and then watched a lawsuit kill it. During that time I also watched ISPs throttle traffic, enact punitive peering agreements and more. At the same time, the fears over net neutrality shifted from broadband networks over to wireless networks, where issues like offering Netflix to a T-Mobile subscriber for free caused similar concerns over the control carriers and ISPs had over how a consumer could experience the internet.

In 2015 The FCC finally passed network neutrality rules formalizing principles that originated back in 2005 with Republican FCC Chairman Michael Powell. But the way it did it was by classifying telecommunications as a public utility. This freaked out the ISPs. There were plenty of reasons for that, yet the FCC headed by Tom Wheeler (a former lobbyist for the telecommunications industry) that enacted the rules, took care to exempt the ISPs from most upsetting aspects of being a public utility.

But the carriers chaffed. With a new chairman, plus less support initially from big internet companies that stood to benefit from net neutrality in 2008, but now have the power to go head-to-head with the ISPs, ISPs saw a chance. This week the FCC said it will vote on December 14 whether or not to repeal the 2015 net neutrality rules. This is a big story for the internet at large and there are several aspects of the internet of things that make it a great test case for network neutrality, so it’s a topic I’ll go into more depth on in a later issue.

However, beyond the frustration I feel at what is an anti-consumer and anti-innovation act by the FCC, I’m also dismayed by how much of a waste of money and time resources this all is. Lobbyists have spent millions of dollars and hours discussing this one single issue. I’ve written what is likely a book-length amount of copy on the topic as have others. And for what? We’re not adding to the debate? The compromises that were reached in the 2015 net neutrality regulations did not unilaterally favor consumers or Google to the detriment of the ISPs.

There were plenty of loopholes in the 2015 net neutrality rules that a sympathetic FCC can use to ease up on ISPs. So the idea that a repeal is needed is ridiculous. A repeal only returns us to the status quo that started this fight all the way back in 2005 once technology began infringing on the ISP’s revenue streams and they acted to stop it by blocking applications and services on the internet.

This was regulation that solved an actual problem. Which is exactly what the government is supposed to do. To suddenly repeal what took almost a decade to enact soon after coming into power isn’t a step forward or even backward. It’s just another step toward the corruption of our democracy.

Cisco is offering financing to cities for connected tech: The U.S. is further behind Europe and Asia when it comes to developing smart cities. One reason for this is the governments in other countries are investing in technology through grants and other programs. Meanwhile, in the U.S., finding funds for tech can be tough. Cisco, recognizing this, has created a $ 1 billion City Infrastructure Financing Acceleration Program. The funding will be provided through Cisco Capital in partnership with private equity firm Digital Alpha Advisors and pension fund investors APG Asset Management (APG) and Whitehelm Capital. However, there’s a large part of me that worries about cities striking revenue-sharing deals with private firms as part of funding for a connected traffic light or parking system. It also begs the question of how non-lucrative government services such as providing air quality data or safety in parks might find funds for technology. (SecurityWorld Market)

A crowdsourced ethics curriculum for techies: This has some really good ideas and books on it if you’re into that sort of thing. If you aren’t, you probably should be. (Tech Ethics Curriculum)

Meet the Chinese company that’s enabling the surveillance state: This profile of Megvii and its Face++ platform is a good indicator of what it means when a computer can identify people and what value a company accrues when doing that well. As humans, our face is our identity more so than a social security number or whatever other government issued ID is. We only moved to numbers because that was easier for computers to track. Once computers can track faces easily then we have to start thinking about security in an entirely new way. Because unlike our passports, our credit cards and our social security numbers, our face is visible and out there in the world. (MIT Technology Review)

Former AT&T IoT chief Glenn Lurie has a new gig: Lurie, who was the former president and CEO of AT&T Mobility Consumer Operations before he left in late summer, has joined Synchronoss at the CEO. Synchronoss is a company best known for messaging technology that it sells to a who’s who of carriers around the world. So Lurie’s staying with telecom, but not necessarily IoT. (Fierce Wireless)

Read the EU’s thinking on IoT security: The European Union Agency for Network and Information Security (ENISA) has published a report that tries to establish a framework for IoT security. It’s a long read and I’m not through it yet. So far there’s nothing groundbreaking in it from the perspective of how it defines the IoT, what aspects need to be secured and that security has to happen horizontally across the entire services and device. If nothing else, you will gain a deep respect for the difficulty of “securing the IoT.” (ENISA report)

Amazon’s Lambda service gets some real power: I didn’t even have to wait until next week’s AWS ReInvent conference to pick up some exciting news about Amazon’s serverless computing efforts. This week, Amazon beefed up its Lambda service to allow for better authentication and ascertaining privileges on demand, more dynamism in figuring out where to process certain requests and bigger limits for what you can do on Lambda@Edge. For more on why Lambda matters read this. (AWS blog)

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Stacey on IoT | Internet of Things news and analysis

Lunera wants to define the shape of edge computing

The Dallas Fort Worth airport uses the Lunera lights. Image courtesy of DFW.

This week I met a company called Lunera that’s embedding computing in LED light bulbs. Literally. Each LED bulb slots into a traditional enterprise or commercial lighting ballast and contains an ARM Cortex A7 quad-core processor that also has Wi-Fi and Bluetooth radios. Each lightbulb-turned-server also runs a variety of applications in Docker containers.

Is this crazy? The pendulum is clearly swinging back to local compute after years of singing the praises of the cloud. And while in reality a hybrid model will emerge that shunts appropriate jobs to the cloud and other jobs to computers located at the so-called edge, the hype for edge computing is hot and heavy at the moment.

For example, Liqid is a startup that makes software that turns clusters of GPU servers into what it calls “composable infrastructure.” The idea is that factories, manufacturing plants and other operations will need intense high-powered computing to handle real-time data analytics or even some video processing. Because the jobs may change over time, the folks at Liqid believe companies will want what is essentially reconfigurable computing, storage and networking to handle changing demands.

It’s not just startups eyeing edge computing as a source of new profits and IT sales. HP Enterprise has invested significant effort into building servers that can handle the physical environments on plant floors and pack more power than the typical IoT gateway. Having visited manufacturing facilities and seen the local server closets that handle everything from general computing to highly-specific industrial controllers, this vision makes a lot of sense.

However, Lunera is taking this idea out of manufacturing and bringing it to the enterprise. This is where the local computing story falls apart for me. On one hand, the vision of having computing embedded in everyday objects that can run applications locally makes sense. On the other hand, taking the computing that used to be an IT asset and putting it into something that facilities managers used to run puts unfamiliar equipment in the hands of an overburdened IT staff.

It effectively turns a facilities asset into an IT asset, which is actively happening anyhow as IoT invades building systems. So, the recognition of this feels prescient, but perhaps too early. Competitors building lighting “platforms” are designing apps that are designed to go to work with dashboards that building managers or even line managers can use.

These Lunera bulbs have another IT function. Because of the radios in each bulb, it offers a compelling platform for asset tracking and location-based services indoors. There are others doing this without putting a server inside a light bulb. Instead, companies like Mist use existing Wi-Fi access points to create virtual beacons and mesh Wi-Fi. Once again, we’re seeing a traditional IT asset embedded into a facilities asset.

Light bulbs, light switches and other building systems have an innate advantage when it comes to becoming servers or access points. They are everywhere. They have power. And they are mapped out in building plans that can be useful when trying to manage them as computing assets.

So as edge computing becomes a reality does our notion of what a server should look like change along with it? If it does, will we have to go through the inevitable lock-in that computing went through back in the 90s when it became a platform for huge swaths of business value? Or does the shape of computing stay the same? Literally. With ruggedized boxes sitting closer to the action in offices and on plant floors?

I don’t know the answer, but I’m watching startups like Lunera and Liqid to see what the future of edge computing actually looks like.

Stacey on IoT | Internet of Things news and analysis

The future is calling and we can’t opt out

A report by the Pew Research Center earlier this year clearly outlines the challenge for people who want to opt-out.

This week I popped by my in-laws’ home to install an Amazon Echo Plus and some smart home gear. My plan was to see how easy it was for normal, mainstream consumers to set up and operate popular smart home devices. Instead I ran into a cold reality that the tech industry doesn’t seem to want to face.

Both my mother-in-law and my father-in-law were interested in the Amazon Echo Plus and the idea of turning on lights with their voice. I talked about music, timers, sports scores and even calling their granddaughter as part of my sales pitch to them, unconsciously mirroring Amazon’s actual sales pitch.

But once we started the setup, the hard questions began. Amazon, for example, asks to access your contacts to prep the calling feature. There’s no indication why Amazon wants or needs this access (or even how it works) on the screen asking for permission. So I had to explain that Amazon wanted access to their contacts so it could make calls, but also so it could see which of your contacts also had an Echo so they could make Echo-to-Echo calls to them.

For some people that’s pretty invasive. My in-laws said no. The Echo also wants to know where you live so it can offer commute times and accurate local weather. My in-laws provided a zip code but not their address. Yet, later when I was showing off the commute information, their address was already pre-populated which gave me a bit of a start.

It shouldn’t have. Of course Amazon knows their address. They are Prime customers that order from Amazon all the time. But still, it seems odd to offer them the “option” of adding their address details when Amazon already has them. Then I dealt with my mother-in-law’s primary question; was Alexa always listening?

I explained that the Echo was always listening for one of the four wake words, and when it heard one of them, the data following the wake word was sent to Amazon’s servers. I then showed them both how to see and delete their utterances. But my mother-in-law still seemed uncomfortable and joked about the NSA being able to turn on the Echo at any point in time to listen in.

I pointed out that her phone had that same capability as did her brand new smart TV in the same room. She knew about the phone, but the idea that her “smart TV” could turn against her or that it might listen in was news to her.

And here’s where I started getting angry. My in-laws’ had legitimate concerns about their privacy and data collection but they really had little choice in the matter by virtue of buying connected items. They are not alone. A Deloitte survey out this week noted that more than 40% of respondents agreed that smart home technology reveals too much about their personal life, and nearly 40% reported concerns that it allows one’s usage to be tracked.

The common argument here is that people who are worried about these things shouldn’t buy smart home products, but that’s like saying someone who is poor should just spend less and work more. It’s becoming impossible not to buy connected products. For example, all of Kenmore’s new appliances going forward will have connectivity. Same with many cars. Samsung’s TVs are all smart. This is happening because the advantages of collecting customer usage data, device data and more are impossible for any company to ignore.

But as the nature of durable goods and consumer products changes, consumer rights are not keeping up. Consumer education is not keeping up. And while I might have no problems with Amazon or Google collecting all of my data, I do feel a qualm when I think about some of the less experienced companies out there grabbing my information. Do they have the wherewithal to protect it? So far the answer is a resounding no.

Do those companies understand the implicit compact they make with me when they collect my data with regards to law enforcement, or will they hand my data over to the government without a warrant? Do they recognize that clusters of my data and metadata can be used to identify me and some of it may be sensitive to me?

Tech companies have been thinking about this for more than a decade. In some cases they fight on behalf of consumers to prove they are trustworthy stewards of their data and in others they hand it over with nary a debate. As the ability to grab more and more data becomes a business imperative, our government is seeking more and more ways to access it–legally and illegally.

So while it’s unlikely my in-laws will be targeted by the government, there are plenty of people who don’t have that privilege. Human rights lawyers, activists, journalists and others could see a future where their washing machine betrays them. Other than a cursory talk about reading the lengthy and complicated terms of service (which no one does) and telling the government to avoid regulations because it could hurt innovation, there’s little discussion about those who want to opt-out of current connected technology.

But there are a lot of people who are uncomfortable, and dragging them along with us without more discussion, better regulations and more active punishment for those who don’t protect consumer data feels like an abandonment of a swath of society. For now, people like my in-laws won’t buy fancy smart home devices because of their fears. Eventually, they will purchase products that have the potential to gather more information than they feel comfortable sharing.

It’s up to manufacturers and government to address those concerns rather than roll over them. As an early adopter of all of these things, I am aware of what’s happening, but not everyone is. And not everyone wants to live the way I do. They should have that choice and the knowledge to intelligently make that choice.

Stacey on IoT | Internet of Things news and analysis

Making Las Vegas a Smart City

This week on The Internet of Things Podcast, host Stacey Higginbotham speaks with Michael Sherwood, Director of Technology and Innovation City of Las Vegas, about plans for a traffic light that detects pollution and can send cars along before it builds up, and what it really means to build a smart city. Sherwood shares a lot of good insights about the challenges of building a smart city that we don’t often see.

Also, co-host Kevin Tofel reviews the Wink Lookout security bundle. Plus: Google’s new AI framework for embedded devices, the push by smart home and lock companies to give delivery or service people access to your home, and SmartThings gets local control for some devices this week.

Listen here:

Stacey on IoT | Internet of Things news and analysis

IoT news of the week for Nov. 17, 2017

Come say hi! I’ll be at the Target Open House on Nov. 30 to talk about building an IoT business model with Rob Martens of Schlage, Adam Sager of Canary and Rob Vella of Hive. The event is free and we’re going to explore controversial topics such as when and why to brick a device, how to calculate the costs of a connected product over time and how to establish policies around support that work for both consumers and the business. Register here.

Amazon’s Key system has already been hacked: The newly launched combination of a door lock and an Amazon security system that lets Amazon delivery drivers unlock your door to place packages inside your home has been hacked. Researchers showed how a driver with a laptop or a Raspberry Pi could issue an attack against the home’s Wi-Fi network that would force the Amazon camera offline. Once offline the camera shows a user in the Amazon Cloud Cam app the last frame it saw (the driver presumably would make sure that image is the closed door) while in the real world the door could be open and the home robbed. Amazon plans to address the vulnerability by updating the app to notify the user when the camera goes offline. Amazon is willing to guarantee its service for now, but I’m curious what the eventual losses might be and how insurers feel about a homeowner making it somewhat easier to steal items from their home. The takeaway here isn’t that this system could be hacked, but that if we want to offer new services based on connected devices, companies may need to involve insurance firms to ensure their success. (Wired)

This isn’t the right model for connected clothes and shoes: Every tech company out there wants to develop a platform, which is why there are so many companies trying to make smart clothing, as opposed to companies designing basic commodity tech that goes into mass produced apparel. I used to hope that the reference-design approach would win out because it would make the tech cheaper and focus more on fashion while hopefully creating something that interoperates. However, that’s not happening, and even if it did we’d probably still be stuck downloading apps from our favorite brands to get the information we want. That’s why a company called Sensoria that has developed sensor-infused fabric is moving from making smart socks to making smart sneakers. The sneakers will offer detailed analytics on the wearer’s running stride. I wish this was tech they had instead licensed to Nike and Adidas. Maybe one day. (Gadgets and Wearables)

The Apple Watch can now diagnose sleep apnea: I am glad to see third-party testing of the efficacy of wearable devices that track heart rate, activity and sleep. I do wish that these tests would go beyond the Apple Watch and test other wearables and their respective algorithms. The survey designer says most of these devices have the same underlying hardware, but the algorithms used to detect these conditions matter too. (TechCrunch)

The IoT can turn a nudge into a shove: This week’s big health news was the FDA approval of a pill that contains a sensor that can share data on when the medicine In the pill was taken. The first drug inside the pill is an antipsychotic, and patients are able to opt into the program offering the digital pill. The patient has the ability to control who sees the data and they can revoke that data sharing at any time. The idea behind such pills is to ensure that people take the right amount of medicine at the right time. Non-adherence to prescriptions is a huge problem that can cost the healthcare system billions. However, as this type of technology becomes more commonplace it’s easy to see that insurance companies might want to cut their costs by getting consumers to use a digital pill to ensure compliance. Or a school might demand certain students take ADHD drugs and and offer proof that they have as part of a probation process. What’s opt-in today may not be opt-in in the future. (The New York Times)

This is a good take on 5G: The coming wireless standard known as 5G is mostly a bunch of tech jargon wrapped in marketing fluff. There are some real technical innovations happening within the rubric of 5G, but they are often occluded. The big tech innovations will be figuring out how to use spectrum that was previously underused and the ability to set specific technical parameters for different use cases. However, as this discussion points out, 5G means very little and the telcos have done nothing to help customers understand how to make it work for them. This lack of clarity is opening up an opportunity for other companies to take the 5G mantle and disrupt the existing telecoms ecosystem. I’d say it’s about time. (Martin Geddes)

Meanwhile BT’s CEO doesn’t see a business case for 5G anytime soon: Even though the 5G hype is a big part of the internet of things (oh the connectivity it will bring!) the current connectivity we have is enough for now according to BT’s CEO. Because 5G will involve upgrade costs and may offer new business models, the telcos aren’t crazy about pursuing it aggressively while they still try to recoup their investments in 4G. This is rational, yet it also ignores the innovations that companies like Facebook and Google have brought to the telco industry and how those firms might use their tech chops to undercut the carriers while they dither. (Telecoms.com)

Meanwhile, at the other end of the connectivity spectrum: Senet, one of the large LoRA low power wide area network providers has built a physical network for IoT devices that covers 50 million people and 255 cities. LoRa is ideal for the internet of things because it  offers low data rates at low power over a very long range. It’s also proving useful for creating private networks inside corporate campuses and warehouses. Senet wants to take it nationwide though, by created a virtual LoRa network. Something like this could help make LoRa more competitive than the carriers’ own low power wide area network offerings, which use NB-IoT or LTE-M.(Light Reading)

A security firm is using FaceID for authentication: Wow, Apple just launched another successful biometric technology with Face ID. Duo, a security provider, has decided it is comfortable enough with the security behind FaceID that it will let clients use it as a second form of authentication. (Duo Security)

Bosch has a lot of data! The Economist has a nice profile on Bosch, one of the better and more aggressive companies focused on the internet of things. I like its approach because it’s well aware of the disruption caused by connected tech and it is actively reorganizing its business to face the disruption. Plus it makes a lot of things, from components in cars to dishwashers. And that breadth gives it a ton of information; the article says it “hosts” over 100,000 terabytes annually. (The Economist)

Not sure how to organize an IoT effort? The Eclipse Foundation has a project for that. The Foundation has released Eclipse Duttile, which isn’t a technology, but rather a methodology for building out an IoT project. It covers the process, which is actually where a lot of companies get bogged down, even before the tech challenges appear. (Eclipse Foundation)

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Stacey on IoT | Internet of Things news and analysis