Friday

18th Aug 2017

Focus

Internet of Things: many uses but what about rules?

  • The 'Wunderbar', an Internet of Things starter kit for tinkerers (Photo: European Commission)

The European Union is expecting great benefits from the Internet of Things, but the online connection of physical devices via sensors is also a potential head-scratcher for policymakers.

There is a multitude of possibly disruptive ways in which the Internet of Things (IoT) may affect European legislation.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now and get 40% off for an annual subscription. Sale ends soon.

  1. €90 per year. Use discount code EUOBS40%
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

  • “IoT will revolutionise, like the mobile technology has done a few years ago, business models,” said Mario Campolargo, director of the Net Futures unit of the commission. (Photo: Cyrus Farivar)

“It's easy to get a headache. Where do you start?”, said the European Commission's Thibaut Kleiner recently.

Kleiner, head of the commission unit that deals with network technologies, moderated a panel session on IoT policy last Thursday (26 November), at a Brussels conference titled 'The Future of Internet of Things in Europe', organised by the Digital Enlightenment Forum, Huawei, and the European Parliament's magazine.

There is no universal definition of the Internet of Things, but it generally refers to the increasing digital interconnection of objects, rather than computers.

A well-known example is the smart meter, which allows its owner to remotely control energy use. As emphasised at the conference, there may be IoT applications that we cannot imagine yet right now.

Estimations of how many objects will be connected vary, but in a background paper accompanying its Digital Single Market strategy, published last May, the Commission decided to refer to a prediction of possibly 26 billion connected devices by 2020.

Revolution

“IoT will revolutionise, like the mobile technology has done a few years ago, business models,” said Mario Campolargo, director of the Net Futures unit of the commission.

It became clear at the conference that there are still many questions about how IoT will affect the EU's privacy and security rules, and whether these rules will stand the test of time.

The current privacy rules were drafted with the idea that one provider of a service collects your data with a certain purpose. However, increasingly easy large-scale data analysis commonly known as Big Data, may facilitate indirect and unexpected inferences.

“There is normally a contract with you and any service provider,” said Frederic Donck, head of the European division of the Internet Society, a regulatory body of the Internet.

“It's okay to have a toothbrush connected to the Internet, it's okay to have your refrigerator, your watch [connected], but if all this goes on the same network, somewhere someone might have a pretty narrow idea of your health”, noted Donck.

Click here to accept

He also pointed out that the Internet of Things may render unrealistic 'notice and consent', the principle that citizens should be informed about data that is being collected about them and then make an informed decision to agree or not.

The idea of notice and consent lies behind the current rules that make websites inform their users that they are putting small text files known as cookies on their computer, and that requires users to agree to cookies before using the website's service.

“I'm a very strong proponent of notice-and-consent, but yes, how do we do it with the Internet of Things?," asked Donck. "Do we need every cheap sensor to have a click and you would agree? Would you be asked to click every time?”

Sebastien Ziegler coordinates two European research projects on IoT. He voiced similar concerns.

He noted that a new regulation on data protection, the details of which are currently being negotiated behind closed doors by representatives of the European parliament and national governments, “will impact IoT directly”.

“It will make compulsory that if you want to use any personal data you need to have prior informed consent”, said Ziegler.

“If you have sensors deployed massively, how do you handle that? How do you ensure that any people passing nearby will be informed about that?”

The regulation is expected to come into force some time next year, which means that companies will have to adhere to it by 2018. But Ziegler added he is optimistic “innovative solutions” will be invented.

“I am sure we will have enough creativity to overcome that. But there will be a need for the industry and research community really to address it,” said Ziegler.

Who will be responsible?

One other aspect is liability.

“Objects will take decisions on the basis of policies. We expect that their decisions will be conforming with the policies that we authorise them to take, but this may not be the case,” said the commission's Campolargo.

If the autonomous system of, for example, a car, causes an accident, who is then responsible? Is it the software manufacturer? The internet provider? The consumer? These kinds of questions need to be answered if IoT is to be adopted.

Trust and security are key.

“You will not have any market [for IoT products] if you don't convince the citizens that what you're developing in terms of technology is safe, is a benefit for the society and not a threat,” noted Ziegler.

At the same time, there are calls on governments to allow for exemptions, and not regulate too much.

"IoT is still in its infancy and as such for it to flourish, we need to avoid excessive regulation that would prevent new innovative business initiative," said Tony Graziano, vice-president of Huawei's European public affairs and communications office.

"However, there is a need to provide sufficient assurance to users that there is a framework in place. Without putting users at the heart of the IoT, people will remain afraid of the technology," he added.

Wim De Waele, a Belgian investor in tech start-ups, said that in addition to technological experiments, “there should also be regulatory pilots and environments where citizens can experiment together with technology companies and service providers”.

“I would encourage the European Commission and the local authorities … to get rid of the rules – privacy, whatever it is – that we are in Europe so hung up about, that hamper the introduction of certain technology, at least in a contained environment,” noted De Waele.

In a conversation with EUobserver, however, De Waele predicted it will be “ten to twenty years” before the Internet of Things will be a mainstream phenomenon.

That gives the EU some time to think about what it wants to do.

The commission, for its part, is not rushing into any new IoT-specific legislation. Rather, it is first asking around whether there is an appetite for new rules.

As part of its Digital Single Market strategy, it has opened a number of consultations, some of them ask stakeholders about the Internet of Things.

The consultation on 'Online platforms, cloud & data, liability of intermediaries, collaborative economy', for example, asks whether the current legal framework is future-proof. Answers can be sent in until 30 December.

Stakeholder

European insight from the Huawei Global Connectivity Index

The economy of all countries is transforming into a digital economy whether they like it or not. Huawei's Global Connectivity Index provides an indicator of which EU countries are best poised for development and growth.

EU and telecoms firms target 5G benefits

As connecting everyday items to the internet is set to become a normality, the EU Commission is trying to develop a 5G network to cope with the extra demands.

Sex toys and smart robots: Who's liable?

Sex toys are being connected to the internet ad they can be hacked. Is that rape? And who would be responsible for misdeeds of autonomous robots?

News in Brief

  1. Mixed Irish reactions to post-Brexit border proposal
  2. European Union returns to 2 percent growth
  3. Russian power most feared in Europe
  4. Ireland continues to refuse €13 billion in back taxes from Apple
  5. UK unemployment lowest since 1975
  6. Europe facing 'explosive cocktail' in its backyard, report warns
  7. Danish police to investigate misuse of EU fishing rules
  8. German constitutional court questions ECB's €2tn spending

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceDoes Genetics Explain Why So Few of Us Have an Ideal Cardiovascular Health?
  2. EU2017EEFuture-Themed Digital Painting Competition Welcomes Artists - Deadline 31 Aug
  3. ACCABusinesses Must Grip Ethics and Trust in the Digital Age
  4. European Jewish CongressEJC Welcomes European Court of Justice's Decision to Keep Hamas on Terror List
  5. UNICEFReport: Children on the Move From Africa Do Not First Aim to Go to Europe
  6. Centre Maurits CoppietersWe Need Democratic and Transparent Free Trade Agreements Says MEP Jordi Solé
  7. Counter BalanceOut for Summer, Ep. 2: EIB Promoting Development in Egypt - At What Cost?
  8. EU2017EELocal Leaders Push for Local and Regional Targets to Address Climate Change
  9. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceMore Women Than Men Have Died From Heart Disease in Past 30 Years
  10. European Jewish CongressJean-Marie Le Pen Faces Trial for Oven Comments About Jewish Singer
  11. ACCAAnnounces Belt & Road Research at Shanghai Conference
  12. ECPAFood Waste in the Field Can Double Without Crop Protection. #WithOrWithout #Pesticides

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EU2017EEEstonia Allocates €1 Million to Alleviate Migratory Pressure From Libya in Italy
  2. Dialogue PlatformFethullah Gulen's Message on the Anniversary of the Coup Attempt in Turkey
  3. Martens CentreWeeding Out Fake News: An Approach to Social Media Regulation
  4. European Jewish CongressEJC Concerned by Normalisation of Antisemitic Tropes in Hungary
  5. Counter BalanceOut for Summer Ep. 1: How the EIB Sweeps a Development Fiasco Under the Rug
  6. CESICESI to Participate in Sectoral Social Dialogue Committee on Postal Services
  7. ILGA-EuropeMalta Keeps on Rocking: Marriage Equality on Its Way
  8. European Friends of ArmeniaEuFoA Director and MEPs Comment on the Recent Conflict Escalation in Nagorno-Karabakh
  9. EU2017EEEstonian Presidency Kicks off Youth Programme With Coding Summer School
  10. EPSUEP Support for Corporate Tax Transparency Principle Unlikely to Pass Reality Check
  11. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament Improves the External Investment Plan but Significant Challenges Ahead
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersCloser Energy Co-Operation Keeps Nordic Region on Top in Green Energy