Internet of Things vs Ethics of Things: Balancing digital morality


A recent weekend visit back home to see my parents included a discussion on the future of the Internet of Things (IoT). An interesting family dinner debate you might ask? With my mum newly investing in hearing aids, we joked about the endless possibilities of what other devices we could connect to them. The thought of dad waking her from an afternoon nap with music, or Alexa reciting the weather made us laugh, but also ponder the future.

The idea of hearing aids as a connected IoT device isn’t as silly as it sounds. Bluetooth headsets were proven to be a success in the 2018 Winter Paralympics, where downhill skiers used them to coordinate between the blind competitor and their safety navigator.

There are numerous examples of IoT in devices we use daily; be it our smartphones, vehicles, or home appliances – the better connected we are, the smoother are our everyday activities.

The debate of technology used as a collaborative tool with the internet versus ethics impacts not just how we enable productivity in the workplace, but also how we live domestically. IoT is changing the nature of communication, and as the opportunities to connect increase, the vulnerabilities and risks we take through these connections are revealed.

Technology is the future: We must adapt to the risks

Through the Internet of Things, connectivity enables businesses to learn more about their customers on a personal level. The rise of technology has made every company question how they integrate new platforms into the forefront of their business model. These same issues are also forcing businesses today to rethink the moral implications of the ways in which we utilize IoT.

Gartner recently released their prediction that by 2020, there will be 21 billion connected devices, showcasing the speed at which the technological landscape is changing. We must not see this as overwhelming, but rather the catalyst for how businesses serve consumer needs and demands more purposefully.

IoT personalization has created a more dynamic relationship between consumers and businesses. Companies are responding to the omnichannel revolution, and as IoT connects all these devices, we are more efficient in not just what content we deliver, but also how we approach the customer.

Each device is different, and the ways consumers use these devices are also different, therefore vigilance is required to understand each customer individually. IoT benefits business via customer engagement, and allows brands to expand how they position themselves through new paradigms. Consequently, connecting with the customer on this level, a whole new world of data is available to businesses. Data is provided throughout the customer journey and companies are able to receive more in-depth information which allows them to offer better, personalized consumer experiences.

The circle of life in technology is now at the fingertips of corporations.

IoT is not only looking at how businesses can work more efficiently through an outside-in approach focusing on their customers, but also the benefits of what IoT can do both for companies internally, and for individuals. Forbes highlighted how IoT connects employees globally both in the office and working remotely, enhancing speed and efficiency of task performances.

IoT: The new building block of learning

Technology is also being utilized to benefit and facilitate education. It can enable group-based projects in schools,  providing more interactive ways of working with people of all abilities, connecting different schools to teach remotely, designing apps aimed at developing curriculums and strategies to learn, like ‘Play my Way’ , and bringing content to life using VR and iPads.

With all the advancements being made by technology, we must consider the implications IoT has. Using the tools to our advantage is imperative to growth.

Opportunity brings challenges: Balancing digital morality

While connectivity provides opportunity, fragility and vulnerability are two main consequences which come out of the risks posed by IoT. The rise in security required to support customers through fraud and risk management in purchasing and data protection can create skepticism around how much is too much when it comes to our use of IoT.

For example, through the increase of m-commerce, corporations like Apple and Amazon are advancing the ways in which we pay for goods and services. The objective of Apple’s Peer-to-Peer campaign enables customers to pay via messaging apps on their smartphones directly through the cards saved on their mobile accounts. This has further branched out to retailers, such as Alibaba’s face recognition payment initiative, ‘Smile to Pay’, which connects customer smartphones and an in-store screen to order a meal.

Making payments is easier, faster, and more cost efficient, yet we are also subject to fraudulent behaviour through these transactions due to the data stored outside of our pockets. In the UK alone, it’s predicted by the Action Fraud agency that fraud is costing SME businesses £18.9 billion. No matter how much trust customers place in technology, no one can guarantee that it is risk-free.

Internet of Things versus ethics of things

To question the ethics of IoT we need to address concerns on a social and political level, recognizing the current issues facing the millennial generations in the age of digitalization.

The way in which we use technology is raising health and well-being issues such as addiction to technology, cyber bulling, and the effects of online social interactions. Shocking statistics offer evidence that there are more children in South Korea that are addicted to technology than there are alcoholics in America, (1 in 12), and highlights the quantities at which we use technology.

This affects the interaction of humans around the globe. Thanks to digital engagement and dependency,  our attention span has dropped to 8 seconds. We need to address the blurred lines between working autonomously and the influence technology has on our lives.

The theory of ‘mobile escapism’ notes that we want to be involved with activities going on all the time, yet we can’t be present in the moment, illustrating the contradiction between connecting all technology and debilitating productivity. A new wave of social issues in ‘compassion deficit and an empathy crisis’ are on the rise.

We need to consider the purpose for which we are using technology. Stereotypes suggest that smartphones are being used only for social media, but the expanding connectivity also advances social movements, spreading international awareness and messaging.

As the puppet masters of these powerful tools, we must take responsibility in creating parameters to create positive changes on a wider scale. It is up to us to adapt and learn to use technology to maximize its outcomes.

Move with the times

The apprehension my mum experienced from the ‘life-of-their-own’ hearing aids makes one wonder whether moralizing technology is a generational debate on balancing progression with social demands. As a generation raised with technology, do we have far less of an expectation to privacy than generations before?

Technology is an instrument that can be used advantageously to shape our social composition and contribute to benefit everyday living. As the creators, we must challenge the norms, recognize the risks, and drive changes.

T.S. Eliot once said, ““Most of the evil in this world is done by people with good intentions.” It is up to us to assure that the good that technology brings far outweighs the bad.

Tesni Fellows
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April 4, 2018
Tesni Fellows

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