Society can HOPE for a better Link

Last weekend, at the Eleventh HOPE, we took a front row seat for the talk entitled LinkNYC: Free Public Wi-Fi That Isn’t Free or Public knowing it would critically challenge the recent local deployment of connectivity infrastructure, not unlike that which is core to our vision.

LinkNYC is an infrastructure project currently being rolled out across New York City’s five boroughs, promising “Free super fast Wi-Fi. And that’s just the beginning”. This is achieved via up to 10,000 links, progressively replacing pay phones. Each link includes two large screens for advertising and PSAs, a tablet for interaction, 3 cameras and 30 sensors, and, of course, Wi-Fi, with plenty of bandwidth thanks to a dedicated fiber connection.

Free, widespread Internet connectivity for the masses, how brilliant! As we’ve previously argued, connectivity is the critical underlying fabric of not only the Internet, but life itself. Imagine what the promise of ubiquitous connectivity holds! That is, until you inspect the underlying fabric of LinkNYC as the Hackers On Planet Earth (HOPE) are so adept at doing.

Benjamin Dean, President of Iconoclast Tech and Fellow for Cyber Security and Internet Governance at Columbia SIPA, did exactly that in his presentation, raising what for us are two critical concerns regarding the future of ubiquitous connectivity infrastructure.

1. The digital business model is transposed to the physical

Dean illustrated that when you add up the published revenues and expenses, the corporate partners appear to lose $50M over the course of the project. This, of course, raises suspicions of an alternative revenue stream, which was clearly alluded to in the following quote from Don Doctoroff, head of Google/Alphabet’s Sidewalk Labs, one of the partners in the project.

“By having access to the browsing activity of people using the Wi-Fi — all anonymized and aggregated — we can actually then target ads to people in proximity and then obviously over time track them through lots of different things, like beacons and location services, as well as their browsing activity. So in effect what we’re doing is replicating the digital experience in physical space.” (Original source)

While there are definitely aspects of our collective digital experience we feel would be beneficially transposed to the physical world in the age of the Internet of Things, the advertising-driven business model certainly doesn’t top our list. Especially given Dean’s calculation that the project could be entirely publicly funded at a cost of fractions of a penny per citizen per day. Is that too much to ask? And would the economic benefits generated by ubiquitous connectivity alone not indirectly subsidise taxpayer investment in the project many times over?

2. Vague policies promote privatisation, not privacy

Given his background, Dean had no difficulties raising serious concerns with the privacy policies of the project. To paraphrase these policies (with no attempt to emulate his articulate analysis thereof):

  • we won’t do creepy stuff like facial recognition
  • we can share the data we collect with third parties
  • we won’t explicitly state anything that prevents them from doing creepy stuff

In other words, nothing appears to prevent your private information from ending up in the hands of private organisations. Perhaps not the organisations involved in the project, but at least those within their arms reach.

Contrast this to our privacy policy which we’ve done our utmost to keep short, clear and readable, and which concludes with the sentence:

Wish we had more to tell you but honestly, we really want to have as little as possible to do with your personal information aside from enabling you to share it when you want, where you want and with whom you want!

While we’re quite proud to champion the notion of users retaining the control of their data and with whom it is shared, the LinkNYC debate nonetheless reminds us of its fragility, given that nothing prevents subsequent layers of third party platforms from exercising policies analogous to the aforementioned. Perhaps a GPL-style privacy policy that influences/contaminates (depending on which side of the debate you’re on!) subsequent policies is the answer? Although for those who attended Richard Stallman’s talk at the same conference, it’s clear that such policies are controversial even within a sympathetic community!

And as for applying the digital advertising-driven business model to the physical world, we have a simple counter argument in economic terms: it’s an outdated, inefficient model. We’re in the early throes of an industrial revolution which will create overwhelming volumes of real-time contextual data, with, arguably, much more of it consensually shared, promising massive economic gains through efficiencies. However, in any revolution, the outgoing paradigm will coexist alongside the new for some time. While LinkNYC seems poised to continue to bet on the former, we’re confident that a growing number of startups, ourselves included, are betting wisely on the latter.

In conclusion, while there are clearly valid concerns around the LinkNYC project, overall the benefits of ubiquitous connectivity, free and public or not, are arguably positive. The history of the Internet suggests that the public will nonetheless overwhelmingly accept any such tradeoffs. A revolutionary change in the underlying business model is unlikely to come from public dissent, but rather from the sustainable competitive advantage of a new economic paradigm. Ultimately, we’d argue that the companies first to exploit that novel competitive advantage will enjoy the economic benefits, and bear the ethical responsibilities, of leading the way forward.

Investing in a Value-First Sharing Economy

Last month we had the pleasure of reading The Sharing Economy and subsequently meeting the author, Arun Sundararajan, with whom we shared our praise, at the New Cities Summit. The book, which we’ve added to our bibliography, eloquently ties together many of our pioneering thoughts on innovation and economics, which we’ll discuss here, starting with the economics which Sundararajan frames as follows:

The sharing economy, although not politically neutral, is creating a new economic model – an interesting middle ground between capitalism and socialism – that also appears to lend itself to fulfilling the desires and needs of people who identify with the extreme ends of both the economic and political spectrums. More importantly, it has developed an economic model that appears to lend itself to fulfilling the desires and needs of people who identify with neither of those extremes.

Conceptually, it seem paradoxical that a new economic model can benefit both those closest to and furthest from the extremes of traditional models. But, as we highlight in our blog post on the Pervasive Sharing Economy, scepticism wanes as even companies that have been notoriously slow to adapt are defying expectations:

General Motors, a company that long ago conspired to derail public transit to boost private vehicle ownership, just bet $500M on Lyft anticipating the end of said ownership!

In that post we argue that while the current sharing economy is largely limited to higher-value underutilised assets such as vehicles and real-estate, the proliferation of Internet of Things technologies will extend the marketplace to include the majority of everyday things from clothing to tools and beyond. However, unlocking this enormous potential is predicated on a significant investment in technology and infrastructure, a proposition which is today typically met with resistance. But such attitudes are clearly evolving, as evidenced by the book’s citation of a post by Brad Burnham of Union Square Ventures discussing their investment in OB1 which develops the enabling technologies for OpenBazaar, “a free market for all with no fees or restrictions”:

How can a business that is consciously architected to undo network effect defensibility, one that is tearing down the walls and filling in the moats that every paper on market based competition has insisted are necessary for success … succeed?
OB1 will offer a set of value added services to buyers and sellers […] and they don’t expect to have any proprietary advantage over those competitors. As investors, we hope that their familiarity with the marketplace and the goodwill they generate as early sponsors of the open source project will give them an advantage but we understand they must execute very well or be left behind. (link)

While it is both refreshing and motivating, as startup entrepreneurs, to witness this shift in attitudes towards investment, we must point out that it is not access to capital alone which is gating progress. Policies and protocols play an equally important role as Sundararajan’s quote of Albert Wenger, also of Union Square Ventures, this time discussing Bitcoin, highlights:

Policy makers, however, need to understand the importance of protocols for enabling distributed permission-less innovation – that is innovation by many individuals and startups. For instance, the hypertext transport protocol (http) is what lets a browser talk to a web server – as long as the server implements the protocol it can deliver innovative content or services to any browser. HTTP itself builds on many other lower level protocols, such as DNA and TCP/IP. Historically, protocols have emerged from either research projects or from individuals / small groups simply throwing something out that sticks. (link)

Case in point, Vint Cerf, co-inventor of TCP/IP, and currently VP & Chief Internet Evangelist for Google, who we recently had the pleasure of meeting at an IEEE science conference. As we argue in Vint Cerf and the Good Fight for the IoT: “in our opinion, he is one of the few individuals applying a long-term vision to balance what’s optimal and what’s profitable for the still nascent Internet of Things”. Cerf equally argues for permissionless innovation. Without the Internet-enabling TCP/IP protocol he co-invented as a researcher, Google’s highly profitable business could not exist! At reelyActive, we thus stand by our approach of publishing protocols as science, upon which we build our innovative business, driven to execute very well or be left behind!

In the coming weeks reelyActive will celebrate its fourth anniversary. One might say that we’ll celebrate having survived four years (see threelyActive), as indeed our hybrid approach hasn’t made life easy under the existing paradigm. Nonetheless, the recent developments discussed in this post and in the book are enormously encouraging. So, what is the next economic paradigm? On that topic, Sundararajan argues the following, paraphrasing Douglass North:

[H]istory suggests that it is neither possible nor economically viable to simply adopt existing rules and apply them to a new economy. The challenge, then, is to determine what comes next.

What comes next is a value-first approach. Investment in the projects and startups developing enabling technologies, including the underlying open protocols, will unlock massive value, generated through permissionless innovation by their peers; value that will lend itself to fulfilling the desires and needs of people across the political-economic spectrum. Investment in massive value creation is Phase 1. Embracing this approach, investors, be they private, institutional or government, need only find a clever means to collect their fair share of the resultant massive value in order to profit more handsomely than could ever be afforded by the current economic paradigm.

LPLAN as amenaBLE to M2M as LPWAN

This week we attended the Wavefront IoT Roadshow where much of this year’s hype was around LPWAN technologies which allow simple, inexpensive radio devices to communicate short messages with cellular base stations kilometers away. An excellent example of the potential of this technology is the SMOCKEO smoke detector which automatically and securely communicates status and alerts to the Internet via the SigFox LPWA network — without any network configuration required. Curious about their optimism surrounding ubiquitous LPWAN adoption, we asked the final panel of experts when they’d expect such devices to be able to connect seamlessly anywhere in the world, if ever? Crickets…

Indeed, there are several competing standards for LPWAN including SigFox, LoRa and LTE-M, and the panel shared little optimism that any single one would cover all geographies. So for all the hype around long-range IoT, it is, at least currently, still very much relegated to niche applications of early adopters in select regions. And this makes us scratch our head as to why the complementary concept of Low Power Local Area Networks (LPLAN) doesn’t even come up in a Google search! Allow us to explain.

LoRa and SigFox versus Bluetooth Low Energy

Today there are billions of Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) devices across the planet:

  • like in LPWAN, these can spontaneously transmit short messages to any receivers that might be in range
  • they use the 2.4GHz unlicensed global ISM band
  • sure, they’re limited to a range on the order of tens of meters, but
  • there are billions of nearby Internet-connected candidate BLE “base stations”, any recent mobile phone, laptop or set-top box is an example

In other words, there are, today, several orders of magnitude more devices technically capable of living up to the LPWAN hype, only with significantly reduced range.

Not convinced on the potential of BLE LPLAN? Consider Tile and TrackR which for at least two years now have in effect operated such (albeit siloed) networks which connect any of their devices to the Internet via their mobile app. In other words, an unpaired Tile will periodically send packets that any BLE device in range can receive and decode. It does so in the hope that the Tile app of any user will be in range, and if so, that packet will be forwarded to Tile’s cloud service.

In fact, reelyActive BLE infrastructure routinely picks up Tile transmissions and forwards them to the Internet. Chances are you’ll see a Tile here among plenty of other similar devices. Your SmartTV and mobile phone could act as BLE gateways just the same. Alas, the aforementioned tracking services are typically branded with limited scope as “crowd GPS”, when in fact, they could spearhead a much broader “crowd LPLAN” or “distributed M2M” (Machine-to-Machine communication) initiative.

Three years ago we published a scientific article entitled Towards a simple, versatile, distributed low-power wireless M2M infrastructure which unveiled our vision of this concept. We’ve tweeted Tile about this. Ditto for FitBit and Flic. We shared our vision with the Bluetooth SIG’s committee on IoT. We created an open library for low-power wireless advertising packets and then published our work in another scientific article entitled Low-Power Wireless Advertising Software Library for Distributed M2M and Contextual IoT. One would be hard pressed to argue that we’ve kept this to ourselves!

The question then again is why with all the LPWAN and IoT hype, if a complementary and underexploited option based on BLE exists, should the latter be subject to such deference? We press on regardless, and look forward to forwarding the packets of the first BLE device provider to request them from us!

RFID Journal Live 2016

Our team have just returned from RFID Journal Live, the largest RFID conference in the world. We had previously attended in 2013, an experience we discussed in this blog post where we concluded that:

we continue to pursue our vision of simple, accessible active RFID, and we strongly encourage other vendors to follow suit in the spirit of collaboration.

The spirit of collaboration

We were pleasantly surprised to discover the extent to which many vendors are embracing collaboration with their current products and business models. For instance, Ubisense unveiled their AngleID sensor which precisely locates their ultra-wideband (UWB) tags, and can be purchased outright without licensing fees and integrated with another vendor’s application software. Similarly, Quuppa presented us their sensor which, like ours, is compatible with Bluetooth Low Energy devices and provides an API for integration with third-party application software. ELA has a similar model for 433MHz Active RFID. Why does this matter? Imagine one of our prospective clients has a need for our technology, but also requires high-precision RTLS in a few places: we could integrate their complementary hardware with our own middleware to provide a complete solution. Everybody wins.

Where’s the WiFi?

Notably absent on the exhibition floor this year were vendors of WiFi RTLS. In 2013, we argued that they favoured competition over collaboration and it was disappointing, but unsurprising, not to find this year a vendor with a solution and business model similar to those presented above.

Simple and accessible anyone?

In 2012, RFID Journal Editor Mark Roberti wrote about Making RFID Easier, suggesting he didn’t know of a simple, cost-effective solution for tracking a few pieces of art in a gallery. In March of this year, a similar post again pleaded “Offer a simple, cost-efficient solution that delivers value, and you’ll have a customer for life.” For this reason, we timed the launch of our Pareto platform, which is precisely that, to coincide with the conference. From our experience on the exhibition floor, we’d argue that we are indeed unique in successfully responding to this plea.

It doesn’t get better than this!

Perhaps our favourite talk of the conference was Kevin Berisso of the University of Memphis’ Auto-ID lab‘s Bluetooth Low Energy: Simple Low-Cost RTLS Replacement or Complex Problem? Essentially, Dr. Berisso sought to create a simple, cost-effective RTLS using commodity Bluetooth Low Energy devices. Slide after slide illustrated the dead ends his team faced. It could have been an advertisement for our solution, and, as such, it completely validated everything we had developed since our previous visit to the conference three years ago. In fact, solving Dr. Berisso’s pain with our platform will be straightforward. Our challenge, rather, is ensuring that many more people like him can quickly and easily find our solution.

BLE RTLS is a complex problem

Accessible RFID is not only about cost-effectiveness, but critically about actually finding its way into the hands of those who need it most, whether they know they need it or not! With healthy collaboration now established, let that be the challenge for RFID Journal Live 2017!

A Fool to Open Source

This week, while paying a visit to one of our Fortune 500 clients, they asked us why we open sourced our software. “Anyone could just copy your work” they said. “Aren’t you afraid that someone steals your business from you?” Wow. We hadn’t thought of that. We just figured we were following the Lean Startup guidelines by sticking to the free tier of GitHub. It costs $25 per month to hide your code in private repositories you know! But then we looked into the gravity of our mistake and here’s what we found:

Other companies can create value on top of our platform. For themselves! How selfish!

We were feeling quite confident that we had the $19 trillion Internet of Things market opportunity all to ourselves given our early mover status. After all, we announced our IoT pivot a week before Cisco, the company responsible for that claim. But it turns out that other companies could leverage our open source platform to “create” additional value. For instance, a third party could focus on a specific vertical outside of our expertise, and develop a useful targeted product with our code base as a foundation. That supposed additional value would in effect be a stolen slice of our $19T pie! Unless, of course, they’re naïve enough to open source too, allowing us to reciprocate and rightfully reclaim our slice!

Collaborators could contaminate our code base under the auspices of free contributions!

We also felt confident that, in our conquest of the global IoT market, we could maintain a clean, pure code base dignified of such an endeavour. But then, to our chagrin, individuals outside our organisation insisted on collaborating and contributing to our open source code. Sure, they claimed to be “fixing bugs” or “adding features” but we all know that can’t be true: why would anyone work without pay? Their intentions could only be malicious. Surely they must be saboteurs seeking to steal from our pie! After all, look at what open collaboration has done to the Linux operating system. Yikes! Is anybody still using that?

The community could continue to use our software even should our organisation perish!

Okay, we’re still having a hard time wrapping our heads around this one. It’s bad enough that we have to share our pie with selfish third-parties and “collabo-raiders”. Now imagine that they eat the whole $19T, causing us to starve and perish as an organisation! Apparently our open source code base would continue to live on indefinitely! How unjust! This surely explains why so many clients and partners have been keen to adopt our platform: we’d have absolutely no recourse to childishly revoke our work out of spite! In fact, we are relegated to subsist but from the meager rations of pie that they dole out each month in exchange for our open source software as-a-service. What kind of pathetic business model is that?!?

We learned a tough lesson this week. By accidentally open sourcing our software, it has become nothing more than a platform bastardised by open collaboration and trampled by an influx of clients and partners. If only we had the prescience to patent a proprietary code base. Imagine how much further ahead we, and the IoT, would be today.

Retail is Ready

On August 30th, 2012, presenting to a packed room of mentors from the FounderFuel accelerator, we pronounced that our technology platform’s first focus would be on retail. The monochromatic slide above is how we broke the news.

Were they convinced? Anything but. Retail isn’t ready, they said. Then, almost exactly a year later, Apple released the iBeacon with strong emphasis on in-store mobile shopping, prompting some of those mentors to ask us “hey, did you ever think about retail applications”?

Was retail ready in 2013? Absolutely not. Did that deter us from continuing to build out our technology platform? Of course not. Other verticals were ready for what we then called proximity identification and today call Smart Spaces. But now in 2016, retail is ready.

How do we know? Because we listened. We listened to what the captains of the Québec retail industry had to say at Hop! 2016, the CQCD‘s annual summit. Here’s what they said:

The future of retail in one word: “authenticity”. – Alexandre Taillefer, XPND Capital

We need to understand our client better, and to do so, we need to target the right technology. – Philippe Duval, CEO Uniprix

You can never stop investing in technology. Your technology platform only serves to improve the human experience. – Peter Simons, CEO Simons

Quebec retail is falling behind in technology, and it needs to catch up. – Alain Michaud,PwC

Collectively, and repeatedly, what we heard the Québec retail industry say at Hop! is the following:

We need to create authentic human experiences, and we need to appropriate the right technology that enables us to do so.

Retail is ready. Gone are the buzzwords for the sake of buzzwords. Absent are the technological silver bullets. The human is again at the centre of the retail equation, and technology is back behind the scenes, enabling the future of customer experience.

What is the future of retail customer experience? Here’s what we think. And yes, we too are ready.

(Version française de la présentation)

Thinking the Unthinkable, Connecting the Unconnectable

This past week, at Bluetooth World 2016, the Bluetooth SIG unveiled a new slogan: “unthinkably connected”. Core to the new branding is how everything, including life, is inherently connected. Watch the video and meet the new blue.

Bluetooth unthinkably connected

We couldn’t help but notice, during the opening sequence, the striking resemblance to that of our 2013 Startup World pitch, which you can watch below. Core to both presentations is the importance of connections, as much for life as for devices. And while we will make no claim to having the better production values in our video, we will nonetheless take pride in the prescience of our pitch that in fact won us the title World’s Best Startup two and a half years ago.

Just as is the case with life and the Internet, the value isn’t in the things themselves, but rather in their interconnection.

We’ve also had the pleasure of presenting to the Bluetooth community on several occasions. You can find our presentation at Bluetooth World 2014 and our presentation to the Bluetooth SIG committee on IoT via SlideShare. Hats off to the SIG as today our Smart Spaces “unthinkably” connect primarily Bluetooth devices!

The Pervasive Sharing Economy

When we talk about the sharing economy today, Uber and AirBnB are the inevitable go-to examples. Automobiles are underutilised resources. Connect drivers and passengers via their mobile devices to an online marketplace and utilisation, hence efficiency, soars! Unoccupied rooms and residences are underutilised resources. Add mobile connectivity and an online marketplace and the value of countless beds across the globe is instantly unlocked for guests and hosts alike.

Sceptical? Have a glance at the list of startup unicorns and you may be surprised to find that it includes car sharing startups in China, India and Europe in addition to the US. General Motors, a company that long ago conspired to derail public transit to boost private vehicle ownership, just bet $500M on Lyft anticipating the end of said ownership!

General Motors, a company that long ago conspired to derail public transit to boost private vehicle ownership, just bet $500M on Lyft anticipating the end of said ownership!

Of course automobiles and real-estate are high-value resources. They’re the obvious low-hanging fruits of the emerging sharing economy. Other fruits about ripe for the picking today are the Uber of Bicycles and the AirBnB of Parking Spaces. In fact, the latter was our first client when we started reelyActive back in 2012. Alas, four years ago it was a challenge connecting both cars and parking spaces, but today the expanding coverage of Low-Power Wide Area Networks (LPWAN) such as LoRa and SigFox, and the falling prices of compatible sensors, significantly reduce the technological and economic obstacles for these applications.

But what lies beyond vehicles and real estate? The Internet of Things and Pervasive Computing are about extending connectivity to the everyday objects with which we interact in far greater number and frequency. If we extend the trend presented above, could we not expect progressively more “ordinary” products to be shared rather than owned? Might we go so far as to argue the emergence of a Pervasive Sharing Economy as an inevitability of Pervasive Computing?

Might we go so far as to argue the emergence of a Pervasive Sharing Economy as an inevitability of Pervasive Computing?

In August of 2015, we had the pleasure of presenting the closing keynote at the Ambient Intelligence conference in Waterloo, Ontario where we argued that “our present concepts of property and privacy will be strongly challenged as the notion of utility permeates our everyday lives”. In closing, we asked the audience, by show of hands, three questions.

  1. Who does not own their principal residence?   A good proportion of the hands raised.
  2. Who does not own their principal mode of transport?   Again, a good proportion of the hands raised.
  3. Who does not own their clothes?   [Laughter]   A scan of the room revealed not a single hand raised. Oh, wait, were we serious?

We were serious. Think about it. Your clothes are a resource utilised far less optimally than your vehicle or home. Just take a conscious look at your closet (or that of your spouse) and do the math. We then asked a final question: If there were a service that always provided you with the right clothes at the right time, and collected those you had just worn, would you be prepared to give up owning clothes? A surprising number of hands raised, many without any hesitation.

The Pervasive Sharing Economy therefore shows all the signs of consumer demand, but is the technology actually in place? Well, last week we ordered our second-generation Smart Shirt from fellow Montreal startup Hexoskin, knowing that it can indeed be detected by any of our Smart Spaces. Proof of concept complete. In the case of Clothing-as-a-Service, the only questions are how long before the technology pervades into your everyday clothes and how soon will sensor infrastructure pervade throughout the places you frequent?

While it’s too soon to place a General Motors sized bet on the future poster child of the Pervasive Sharing Economy, we’re nonetheless confidently betting that a widespread Smart Spaces sensor infrastructure will be a key enabler, just as LPWAN and mobile are today for that child’s parents and grandparents, respectively.

Vint Cerf and the Good Fight for the IoT

At the 2nd IEEE World Forum on Internet of Things we had the honour and privilege to hear Vint Cerf, a true role model and one of the fathers of the Internet, present a keynote on the IoT. More than that, we had the opportunity to snap the photo above as we shook his hand and thanked him for continuing to fight the good fight for the Internet (of Things). In this blog post, we’ll conclude on that comment, after we first discuss Dr. Cerf’s three pillars for the IoT and his three-pronged call to action.

The three pillars of IoT

Pillars of the IoT

In short, (1) the IoT will be predicated on novel security and privacy mechanisms that facilitate rather than hinder the exchange of information, (2) will use open standards (much like the Internet itself), and, (3) will be experienced through more natural, human user interfaces. The following are our comments for each point:

  1. This pillar has been top of mind in every decision we’ve made since the outset, and is the reason we’ve ensured that the core of our platform processes anonymous device identifiers in real-time only (no storage). Hence all secure and private exchange of information can employ the emerging best practices on top of this core layer.
  2. Our firm belief in open standards is indeed what encouraged us to pursue science over patents early in our history, clearly an unconventional choice, as we were probably the only non-academic startup to present a paper at the conference!
  3. We’ll go as far to say that the IoT should be about No UI rather than New UI. Since Accelerator Day One we’ve championed presence-based user experiences through what we’d later refer to as invisible buttons, and we feel this is just one of the various means for humans to be seamlessly understood and engaged by technology without any conscious action required on their part.

The three-pronged call to action

Call to Action for IoT

First, we feel that the term permissionless innovation beautifully articulates what will make the IoT as dynamic, inclusive and pervasive as the Internet that Dr. Cerf himself was instrumental in animating. It’s not unlike the quote by George Whitesides that we feel is a simple mantra for the IoT:

“How do we make things as simple as we can, as cheap as we can, as functional as we can and as freely interconnectable as we can? If we make that kind of simplicity in our technology and then give it to you guys, you can go off and do all kinds of fabulous things with it.”

We made a conscious decision to keep our platform as simple yet versatile as possible, and it is one of the reasons that today we have clients and partners around the world innovating in everything from retail to parking to next-generation social networking.

Second, after an extended but patient wait, we feel that the open standards necessary to spark our arena of the IoT are finally in place. Specifically, Bluetooth Smart has emerged as the first global standard for connectionless identification, and the JSON-LD & duo has finally (in 2015) been championed by Google, where Dr. Cerf serves as VP and Chief Internet Evangelist. These open standards facilitate the interoperability of devices and structured data, respectively, and now enable us to fully pursue our own vision in 2016.

Third, we agree that identity, access control and data management is an essential new ingredient that should be baked in to the IoT early on. Perhaps we’ll soon see the emergence of The Bank of Personal Data? Without such a mechanism, how could we in fact achieve our mission to unlock the value of the data you choose to share?

Call to Action for IoT

Why did we thank Vint Cerf for continuing to fight the good fight? In our opinion, he is one of the few individuals applying a long-term vision to balance what’s optimal and what’s profitable for the still nascent Internet of Things, and, critically, continues to have one foot firmly planted in each academia and industry. And, from our experience, it’s an essential stance that turns out to be neither an easy position nor balance to hold!

As 2015 draws to a close, we salute all those who will fight the good fight for the Internet of Things in the New Year and beyond!

The Bank of Personal Data

At the second IEEE World Forum on the Internet of Things in Milan, Italy, Roberto Minerva of Telecom Italia gave a keynote speech covering everything IoT from the perspective of a telecom operator. Among the topics discussed was the inevitable question of “control of data”. Who should control your personal data? How should your personal data be used? Telecom Italia surveyed Italian families concerning whether they’d accept information from within their household to be shared, and the answer, unsurprisingly, was a resounding NO!

Big Brother Syndrome

The comprehensive presentation could be described as technically optimistic and practically pessimistic. This is characteristic of many of the European views we’ve observed, for instance that of Mikko Hypponen, which place a high emphasis on privacy and lament the amount of personal data and communications which inevitably pass through servers in the United States, subject to their surveillance apparatus. In other words, while the sharing of information in the IoT is encouraged, the existing mechanisms are strongly criticised.

Curious to explore this point further, we asked Dr. Minerva:

Do you see a means for individuals to retain control of their personal data yet share it securely and opportunistically?

His eyes seemed to brighten as he indicated that this was indeed a topic much discussed within his organisation. He explained that there’s a model not unlike that of a bank, where instead of placing money, you place your data:

You put your money in a bank, and the bank acts as a broker for you, investing your money as you see fit. But the money always belongs to you. Of course this is not always the case in Italy…

The audience laughed.

Indeed the banking model for personal data in the IoT has promise. It’s something we’ve explored at reelyActive. In February, George Koulouris collaborated with us to prototype a personal data locker which allows users to own and sell their information. However, technical feasibility alone will not be sufficient to get personal data banking off the ground.

We therefore speculate on how personal data banking may emerge. Will an entity such as Facebook, with the information of billions of individuals in its coffers, adopt such a model? Today one could argue that Facebook better resembles the Italian banking system that Dr. Minerva joked about! Will a disruptive startup create and define this next billion dollar industry? Will the individuals of the world unite and together control the means of personal data distribution?

In fact, only time will tell. But one thing is certain: unlocking the claimed $3.7 Trillion market opportunity for improving customer experiences will require the emergence of something along the lines of a personal data banking industry.