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European Union aims to regulate internet of things

Launches consultation on how to protect consumer privacy and realize social and economic benefits


Published: 12 April, 2012

READ MORE: Europe | M2M | Regulator

It may sound like a contradiction in terms, but the European Union is looking for ways to regulate the 'internet of things'. EU officials have launched a consultation into the opportunities created when every object has embedded connectivity - but also threats such as privacy invasion, and how those should be addressed by authorities.

The EU released documents to kick off its public consultation, acknowledging that the boundaries between online and offline are already blurring as previously standalone objects like energy meters and home appliances link to the internet and each other. "The internet of things holds the promise of significant progress in addressing global and societal challenges," the report concluded.

But it struck several warning notes too. There must be a level competitive playing field to realize the full benefits, not a situation where one or more large players can lock everyone in. And the IoT "is likely to have a profound impact on society, in areas like privacy, security, ethics and liability. The policy challenge is to assess the right trade-off between the potential economic and societal benefits and the control that we want to retain over an environment where machines will gather, exchange, process and store information automatically. The effects on our private and public space require that people and their governments debate the appropriate governance and management," said the call for input to the consultation process, which will accept submissions until July 12.

That process will feed into a European Commission proposal, to be presented to national governments and the European Parliament in summer 2013, for a framework to control how the billions of devices gather, store and share data. Today, an average person in Europe has at least two objects connected to the internet and this is expected to grow to seven by 2015 with 25bn wirelessly connected devices globally by that stage - possibly doubling by 2020.

Neelie Kroes, the EC's vice president for the digital agenda, said in a statement: "An internet of things with intelligence embedded into everyday objects is the next big thing. I want to promote an internet of things that serves our economic and societal goals, whilst preserving security, privacy and the respect of ethical values."

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