IoT in Lund – Security & Standardisation


The Internet of Things Conference in Lund occurred this week with over 25 speakers with expertise from throughout the Internet of Things (IoT) landscape.  There were talks about IoT’s infrastructure, it’s business opportunities, and it’s transformation of the healthcare industry.  There were talks about robotics, legality and privacy concerns, connected sports, and IoT entrepreneurship.

It was only possible to attend one third of of  the talks, as three went on at a time and one had to pick his or her favourite.  But rather than causing frustration at the fact that not all could be attended, the format produced a kind of excitement where, between talks, attendees would discuss the talks they just heard and debate what the next talk they would attend would be.

From the ones I attended, which covered the topics of infrastructure, privacy, robotics, healthcare, and business opportunities, I found that all talks had two threads in common: security & standardisation.  Speakers from Sony, Ericsson, and Facebook, as well as entrepreneurs all mentioned those two subjects, even if their main topics were completely different.

Security is popping up more and more in regard to connected devices, so it wasn’t really a surprise.  Empathizing with consumers’ concerns, Mateo Davis, a Lawyer working at Sony Mobile, cited a study (of which he was skeptical).  The study found that seven accurate location hits on a mobile phone can identify 95% of people correctly.  And this data is solely location, not name, email, address, or any other personal identification.

Björn Ekelund, a Research Director at Ericsson, also told the story of Belkin’s WeMo home automation devices that were hacked and put 500,000 user’s information at risk.  Like Davis, he stressed the need to have security protocols built into devices rather than ‘wait and see’ and respond retroactively.

What I didn’t expect to find as a thread throughout the talks was standardisation.  Maybe it’s because I’m cynical when it comes to large companies ‘standardising.’  Canon camera batteries don’t work with Panasonic cameras.  Video can be played through FireWire, HDMI, RCA, VGA, SVGA, DVI, or many more cables.  And car bumpers – ostensibly the easiest moral decision in standardisation – haven’t been standardised even within single companies.  So, as a cynic might say, why would companies want to standardise – especially voluntarily?

The startups and entrepreneurs that I heard speak obviously gave their vote for standardisation.  Standardisation typically helps the small guy; barriers to entry are lowered when materials or rules are made uniform.  What I didn’t expect was to hear both speakers from Sony & Ericsson, as well as Poornachandra Kallare, a System Architect at Phillips, declare their adamant support for standardisation.  Were this a sales conference, then maybe I would’ve questioned their motives, but this conference was simply about sharing knowledge and meeting other thinkers in IoT.

Coming from a legal point of view, Davis stressed that in the longterm “standardisation is the way to go.”  In regard to EU privacy law, he envisions a EU-wide common privacy policy as well as a standised UI for all end users where companies can obtain consent.  What a radical change that would be!

Ekelund, speaking about the infrastructure behind IoT devices, gave the example of Denmark standardising its medical data.  Whether it’s X-rays or CAT scans or blood tests, Denmark stores all of its medical data in a uniformed way.  Remarkably, this is extremely uncommon in the modern world.  But it has meant Denmark is now years ahead in medical research and also providing medical information to scientists around the world because their data is stored uniformly.

The internet is a standardisation of sorts – everyone can contribute and everyone can participate.  And IoT is at the point that it can design standardisation into its own creation – something that is much easier done now and much harder to do retrospectively.  To end with a quotation from Ekelund, emphasising the potential for discovery due to standardisation, “the big innovations are found when you can combine data that you thought was unrelated.”