Timothy M. Denton

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Your vibrator has joined the Internet of Things, or, the meter on your bed

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This morning's oh-so-21st century news was that a woman was suing the manufacturer of a networked vibrator.

An American woman says the Canadian manufacturer of a smartphone-enabled vibrator has crossed the line by selling products that allegedly secretly collect and transmit “highly sensitive” usage information over the web.

Or, in the words of Leonard Cohen:

And everybody knows that the Plague is coming
Everybody knows that it's moving fast
Everybody knows that the naked man and woman
Are just a shining artifact of the past
Everybody knows the scene is dead
But there's gonna be a meter on your bed
That will disclose
What everybody knows

The article went on to discuss the Internet of Things, which, in my view, may well qualify for the Plague that's coming.

Known in technical circles as the “Internet of Things,” the ever-expanding list of connected devices is staggering. According to information technology researcher Gartner, there are more than 6.4 billion devices connected to the Internet and sharing information online today. That number is expected to hit 20.8 billion devices by 2020, excluding tablets, cellphones and computers, as everything from solar panels to coffeemakers and adult sex aids are hooked up.

It is one thing to have a network of sensors around a tectonic plate, to warn us of crustal movements. The strait between Iceland and Greenland is probably still wired for the sound of Russian submarines. I do not mind my keys, shoes, shirts, and penknives being findable - by me, or those whom I allow to help. I really do not want the meter on my bed, and nor, I guess, do you.

But for once I am concerned about the privacy implications of networked devices that are everywhere: in your shoes, in your keys, in your body. There are several galaxies full of IPv6 addresses available for everything larger than an inch to have an IP address: 3.4 times 10/38 power. No, I am wrong. That number exceeds the estimated number of stars in the universe.

It is believed that between 120 to 300 sextillion (that’s 1.2 x 10²³ to 3.0 x 10²³) stars exist within our observable universe.

10 to the 38th power exceeds 10 to the 23rd by  fifteen orders of magnitude.

There will be a discussion of monitoring devices that focuses on range, penetration, power consumption, network topology, lifetime, multi-protocol support, ease of roll-out and maintenance. That is not the conversation I am concerned about.

All this technical stuff will be the problem. The real issues concern who will know, who will be allowed to know, and when will we ever be able to shut off the tsunami of information, misinformation, and data that these little bots will collect.

Ubiquitous monitoring of every thing in the world is shortly to be possible. If ever there were technologies that require social regulation, they are soon to be here.

The motto "no one's business but our own" comes to mind.

 

 

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Timothy Denton is a lawyer by training who practices principally in telecommunications and Internet policy and domain name issues, with a strong concentration on explaining what the technology is and what it means.

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Guest Friday, 15 December 2017
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