April 20 2019

The below piece was featured in the Vancouver Sun as part of the SFU Public Square’s 2019 Community Summit: Confronting the Disinformation Age.

I can unlock my front door and change the temperature of my house from my phone kilometres away. My insurance company can track how safe a driver I am by installing a device in my car. My city can track stormwater levels.

The future is a world connected by the internet of things and the future is now. While we willingly connect our bodies, homes, cars, buildings and cities to a shared network to track, collect and store data, we need to ask what happens next?

Before we go much further, I should describe the difference between personal and commercial IoT data. For personal data, think of devices like health-trackers and smart-home apparatuses. For commercial IoT, think of smart cities and buildings that track shared resources like water levels, waste management or parking. In this op-ed, I’ll focus on commercial IoT.

One of the key attributes of commercial IoT products like a water-level data-logger is that its main purpose is to get the data it’s tracking to an application so that customers can make better decisions. For large organizations like cities who are buying IoT devices in large quantities, keeping the cost low is key.

As IoT makes our data the new currency, we need to think about the level of security required to keep us and our information safe. As IoT grows from seven billion connected devices in 2018 to an expected 22 billion by 2025, we need to be thoughtful about security requirements. It’s not a one-size-fits-all issue. And this is where it gets tricky.

Not every device connected through IoT needs rock-solid security. But if you’re collecting medical data from individuals, or tracking individuals’ locations, you need rock-solid security. But for solutions like eleven-x’s intelligent parking management — that gathers no identifiable data but simply tracks if a spot is occupied — that requires less security. Understanding this difference helps organizations make smart choices about their security levels to keep themselves and their users secure.

It’s tough to predict the future and know how IoT-use cases will evolve, so we’ve taken the steps to build in a higher level of end-to-end security features in our solutions right now. They aren’t needed with many of our current products, but we want to make sure that if a higher security level is required it won’t cost our users more to keep them safe.

Today there is a lack of standards for IoT security requirements. Technology is moving faster than Canada’s legal system. I hope this changes and that our legal system catches up. At eleven-x we’re not waiting for that. We’ve built our products to run on the LoRaWAN™ wireless network, which is designed to securely transmit small packets of data that don’t contain personal information, and in most cases doesn’t contain any connection to personal data. This means that the data we gather is less personal and therefore less valuable to bad agents.

We know security standards are needed to prepare for the spread of IoT. In the very near future, data tracking and gathering will be ubiquitous with our daily life. And Canadians deserve to know that any information that is gathered, from family homes’ water usage, to our babies’ cries in the middle of the night, is being used in good faith. We look forward to the day that the technology will be recognized under a single data and privacy policy.

Dan Mathers is president and CEO of eleven-x, Canada’s leading full-service low power IoT solution provider and operator of the only public coast-to-coast network optimized for IoT. This op-ed series is a supporting part of SFU Public Square’s 2019 Community Summit: Confronting the Disinformation Age, running April 10-18.