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In Our World of Internet-of-Things

Data Privacy Beyond the Screen | Data Sharing to Combat Climate Crisis

In our world of Internet-of-Things (IoT), how all things are interconnected is manifested in a ubiquitous way, and how we live is evolving at an unprecedented rate. IoT is amongst a few core emerging technologies that are driving digital transformation and creating new business models for the private sector, unlocking exponential growth in efficiencies for industries. Governments are launching various policies and initiatives to leverage benefits of those technologies, aiming to boost economies, improve quality of life for citizens, and protect our mother earth. 

According to The Law of Accelerating Returns, “Within a few decades, machine intelligence will surpass human intelligence”. This is predicted to happen by the end of the coming decade, and could likely become reality thanks to the exponential increase in data being collected by IoT devices which feeds the AI to learn and grow, coupled with 5G next-generation networks capable of connecting the unconnected to further accelerate data transfer and scale data processing, with real-time AI powered by edge computing to allow IoT systems moving from centralized cloud-computing towards decentralized, ubiquitous intelligence. 

In this race, however, machine intelligence may not win without being trusted by us human. “Trust” from human is the key to enable integration of intelligent “things” with social capabilities and responsibilities. In order for us to keep contributing data, we need to trust the IoT for collecting, sharing and using data while respecting our privacy, we need to trust AI for processing our data and generating value in an unbiased and ethical way, we need to trust 5G networks for connecting everything and everyone with strong cybersecurity foundations.

Data Privacy Beyond the Screen

In the world of IoT beyond the screen, it’s more and more challenging to design and implement better data protection and privacy policies, including how to consent to ambient data collection by IoT devices and how to comprehend data processing by artificially intelligent algorithms. This topic was explored at the Conference on Redesigning Consent for Better Data Protection that Fluxus attended on October 2-3, 2019 organized by World Economic Forum Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution, and Center for Internet and Society of Stanford Law School.

The technology is moving faster than the legal framework concerning IoT Privacy. Currently it largely depends on industry players’ self-regulation. In our home and city environment, we need to consider the further implications for data collected by IoT devices in smart buildings and smart cities to better protect not only consumers but also everyone involved. These data can be privacy sensitive as they may contain users location, health and financial information, behavior patterns and activities records among others. To establish trust, it is critical for the ecosystem to introduce transparency through informed consent. It’s also important to provide options to make certain personal identifiable data anonymous, and even options to control how the data is shared and will be used.

In cases where industry self-regulation fails to foster best practice, government intervention will be necessary. The Privacy by Design requirement in EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is a good starting point. To comply with this regulation, companies will be obliged to assess potential privacy risks and considerations throughout the whole lifecycle of relevant data process from the design phase to product development and manufacturing process, and the most privacy-friendly settings will be required to be built into products, devices, and business processes.

On the other hand, an open and collaborative ecosystem for data sharing that allows for interoperability in IoT systems is essential for smart home industry to truly mature. There is an opportunity to introduce fully integrated IoT interfaces to not only implement transparency and privacy principles by providing user choice and control, but also increase the interoperability of data generated by different devices, acting as platforms for other value-added services.

Data Sharing to Combat Climate Crisis

According to the World Economic Forum’s program Unlocking the Value of Data for Future Urbanization at 2019 Summer Davos, “Data has huge potential to respond to the vulnerabilities of urbanization but only 1% of data is currently shared”. A recent workshop on October 9, 2019 themed Leveraging Smart City and Sensor Data to Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions organized by IoT, Robotics & Smart Cities team at the Forum’s Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution further explored how governments, industry, startups, academia and civic society can better leverage sensors and smart city technologies to address environmental and climate-related challenges.

In the context of residential buildings and communities, one group that Fluxus participated at the workshop envisioned that a systematic energy optimization for a specific neighborhood could be realized through integrating a combination of shared data, including facility management data at individual buildings on the consumption of electricity, natural gas, water and real-time weather data, real estate data on occupancy, health and demographic data, satellite data and public transportation data.

When it comes to environmental impact, it might surprise some that low income households are major GHG contributors. By some estimates, low income housing represents 26% of all households but accounts for over 70% of emissions for all residential buildings in typical urban settings. The U.S. Department of Energy reports that simply bringing low income housing stock to current construction standards would easily reduce energy consumption by 45%. On a global scale, this would translate to a reduction of 300+million tons of CO2 per year.

As we know, the scarcity of urban housing is increasing rapidly as cities evolve into megacities. Consequently, the lower income urban housing options reduce in number due to the capital required to purchase an urban household. Rental options are also diminishing. Corporations with increased buying power might construct new models where housing is provided at a much lower initial investment cost. Households, with their increased connectivity, can generate a longer-term revenue stream by providing data such as power consumption requirements, appliance performance and other services. 

Real time communication between buildings and utilities has large potential for emissions reduction both at the use level (the building) and the power generation level (the utility). The real-time IoT data generated through occupancy sensing allows buildings to learn and adapt to the behaviors of its occupants. Taking this to scale for widespread adoption could have a significant impact on energy efficiency and quality of life. 

Admittedly, added connectivity also brings future privacy and security concerns for individuals, businesses and communities. Resolving those new concerns will require innovation in the way homes are designed and constructed. In many ways, these issues center on the need to develop integrated new products and services that are inclusive and meet the needs of the entire community. To combat climate crisis, solutions will be enabled through the increasing data sharing, monitoring, and control capabilities provided by IoT networks established throughout ecosystem of smart homes, smart communities and smart cities.

Fanyu Lin

November 2019

About Fluxus LLC

Founded in 2013 in New York, Fluxus LLC is a construction/architecture technology company and impact enterprise, committed to providing affordable, energy-efficient and aesthetic smart home solutions for low-to-middle-income communities by leveraging innovations in smart city technologies, sustainable building materials, intelligent design, industrialization and digitalization of construction.

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