Managing the machines

The world of M2M communications is upon us. Sensors are already installed in city infrastructure and smart home foundations to collect data and feed it to other machines. The goal is to create a more streamlined end-user experience. However, as sensors track movement and back-up data, personal privacy and security issues inevitably come into play.M2M

To understand these potential privacy and security pitfalls of M2M communication, it is first important to know what practical applications of the technology are being utilised today. The sheer number of connections per user is staggering, and continues to grow. Ashley Woodbridge, Customer Solutions Architect, Cisco UAE, provides some context for just how quickly the world of M2M technology is expanding.

“Globally, devices and connections are growing faster than both the population and Internet users,” he says. “This trend is accelerating the increase in the average number of devices and connections per household and per Internet user.”

Each year, new devices in different form factors with increased capabilities and intelligence are adopted in the market. Machine-to-machine communications technology is driven by the explosion of networked connections, with 50 billion physical objects forecasted to be linked to the Internet by 2020. And as more devices connect and share information, the potential for data breaches and malicious attacks increases.

With so many active connections, and many more on the way, one is forced to wonder what machines are being connected and more importantly, how they are being used. The end goal, of course, is to benefit the consumer by enabling them to be more productive, make better decisions and enjoy a higher quality of life. Multiple industries have begun to implement M2M communication technology to make their businesses and services more streamlined and effective.

Jamil Jeitani, Managing Director, Teradata Saudi Arabia, lends insight into the different industries at the forefront of M2M technology. “The consumer electronics industry utilises M2M technology in many of the products it provides, with e-books being one of the most notable. Companies can collect data on user preferences, analyse usage patterns, and use this information for targeted advertising.”

Better advertising is not the only aim of industries utilising M2M communication technology. Physical security industries have found benefit in the technology as well. “Security alarms and remote CCTV can now be outfitted with M2M communication technology. This enables the devices to increase emergency response times, allow remote monitoring from nearly any device, and collect and send location tracking data,” according to Jeitani.

Municipalities are reaping the benefits of M2M communication technologies as well. “We’re seeing the implementation of smart power meters, smart power grids, and even smart homes,” explains Jeitani. “With advanced utility and sensor monitoring and control, we’ll see an increase in efficiency when it comes to energy and utility usage. This in turn will cut down on wasted resources and ultimately benefit the health of the planet.”

There are notable developments in other industries as well, including the medical field which is utilising things like remote patient monitoring, predictive healthcare, and analysis of health trends. Of course, in order to monitor and analyse medical trends and make prediction-based data sets, these industries have to collect that data. While there are clear benefits to allowing machines and industries to access increasingly intimate data, consumers should be aware of what kind of data is being collected and how it is being leveraged.

“Data is being collected from different sources, from wearable devices and smartphones, to machines and sensors in homes, offices and cities, that are constantly collecting and sharing information about people’s surroundings, behaviour, health and location,” says Woodbridge.

“For example,” he continues, “A heart-rate monitor or a wearable device that monitors the patient’s health can provide alerts to the medical staff so that they can provide treatment swiftly. Then, the digital health data collected from a large volume of patients could be analysed to understand health trends. Similarly, sensors on smart cars could gather data on driver behaviour, road and traffic conditions as well as the weather, to provide an alert to the driver to potentially avoid an accident. Data collected from M2M and IoE provide intelligent analyses, which will help people make quicker decisions thus making our lives easier and more secure.”

This is certainly the aim of M2M communication, but one would be remiss in not addressing privacy and security concerns associated with the technology. The chief concern is, of course, data security. Security breaches are a part of our society, and they can be disruptive when they happen to individuals. The magnitude of a security breach of a global company that collects data through M2M communication is cause for even greater concern.

Currently, the legislation is trying to catch up to the technology. Jeitani explains, “Companies are liable to protect and secure the data that is collected – they are bound by regulations to do so.” This translates into a great deal of responsibility for the organisations that collect, analyse and manage data collected by M2M communication.
“In some cases, the way M2M data is collected, monitored and analysed could lead to privacy and data security issues, where the private data of the user could be compromised,” says Woodbridge. “Privacy and compliance,” he continues, “are intertwined and are under the purview of federal regulation. As the technology is evolving so quickly, the consumer must be cognizant of how these issues apply to his or her daily life.”

Each sector has its own standards that could be complex and diverse – particularly the standardisation of communication protocols between machines. Additionally, each country has their own regulations, and the laws created to protect the data differ between them. Clearly, this need for compliance complicates the data protection process.

On the topic of regulation, Woodbridge explains, “Growing data security concerns have driven policy and regulation in many countries but the new rules have sometimes eroded privacy. Because the M2M communication and IoE market is still maturing, rules governing data privacy are somewhat elastic – but not for long.”

With the security of this data in flux, consumers may want to opt out of data collection. However, this may be more difficult than a single click on a social media site. The devices collecting, sending and storing data using M2M technology will continue to increase in number, sophistication and application. This can be a cause for concern for those who don’t wish to have their data collected and analysed. Currently, most systems are opt-out rather than opt-in, putting the weight of responsibility on the consumer.

The future promises more effective and efficient devices which will no longer require as much human interaction in order to complete their tasks and solve problems. Jeitani explains, “The most popular M2M setup thus far has been to create a central hub that accepts both wireless and wired signals from connected devices. Field sensors would note an event, be it a temperature change, the removal of a piece of inventory or even a door opening. They would then send that data to a central location where an operator might turn down the AC, order more toner cartridges or tell security about suspicious activity.”

The model for M2M in the future, he continues, eliminates the central hub and instead has devices communicating with each other and working out problems on their own. An M2M device will be able to automatically turn on the AC in an overheated space, order more toner when it senses that supplies are low or alert security if a door opens at an odd hour. Within the next five years, sensor data will hit the crossover point with unstructured data generated by social media. From there, the sensor data will dominate by factors 10 to 20 times that of social media.

“M2M is clearly not just hype,” says Muneeb Anjum, Sales Manager, Oxygen, “but a technological revolution that is already pervading all aspects of life and will help make sense of the technological burst where everything will be connected making us shape and reinvent and how everything gets done.” This could not only benefit individuals but provide valuable information for the city and community as a whole.

As M2M communications take hold, vendors, consumers and governments will need to determine who is responsible for the data created. As of yet, there is no standardisation in the field, leaving end-users a bit anxious when it comes to passive data sharing.

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