Overlord vs Indie #IoT — my notes for the internet of things panel at C2SV today

These are the notes I took for myself in preparation of the panel. Of course, the panel discussion went in a different direction, but why not post my notes anyway? I’m told there will be a video of the actual event, and I’ll post that when I get the link.

So, here are the notes:


The #IoT is a wonderful, multi-trillion opportunity for the tech industry to royally screw our customers, and kill off what’s left of democracy.

If you are a would-be overlord excited by the prospect of world domination, this is how you do it:

  1. You give away cute little sensor devices at cost, pretending that they are all about keeping your customers safe from fires, for example, or from burglaries. (Ever heard of anybody selling such devices?)
  2. But what you really do is distribute spying devices. With all the sensors they have, your cute little sensor devices collect any and all information about your customers, their families, and everybody in the neighborhood. 24 hours a day, without break, for years and years they tell you everything that happens and you store it all in your “cloud” . You will know when they wake, when they sleep, what they say to each other, what they buy and what they eat. Their hobbies, their friends, their heart rate, their blood pressure, when they have sex and whether they clean their toes.
  3. And then you profit. You sell the data you collect left and right, push product when your customers are most vulnerable, and even better: you are in control. You suddenly get to determine what happens in the life of your customer because you can.

I dread the day, and it will come, when I come home at night one day, and attempt to unlock my front door, and it says, “I can’t let you do that, Dave”.

Except it won’t be some computer run amuck, it will be our new corporate IoT overlords who have decided that they should cancel my account and lock me out of my house because my teenage son pirated some movies. Or something like that.

I don’t want that overlord IoT. I want an IoT that serves me and my family, and not enslaves them by putting some gigantic unaccountable corporation in a position of power over me, my family, my home and my belongings. (They woulnd’t be my belongings any more if somebody else had power over them)

I call the version of IoT I want Indie IoT, as in “Independent from overlords” IoT. It has three principles:

  1. Data ownership. Data that I generate, in my house, on my body, in my car, must be be mine. I must be able control it the same way I control my pants. I own my pants, I do whatever I like with them, and it is nobody’s business other than mine. My data is more valuable than my pants, so I want to control it even more than my pants. And I’d never dream of letting somebody else control my pants.
  2. No lock in. No devices in my house that lock me into a particular vendor. Let’s say I put some sensors on the windows, so I know whether I closed them before it starts to rain. My windows might last 30 years. Do I really want to make a bet even on a vendor that says “Don’t do evil” that they won’t for 30 years? Instead, what I want is vendors like my maid service. I’ve had them for 15 years, because they do a good job. But if they ever didn’t, switching maid services takes just two phone calls: one to cancel, and one to get a new one to come. I would never hire a maid service with lock-in. Why should I for devices in my home?
  3. The ability to fork. Open-source development has shown us how powerful that is. For the IoT, it means that if a year or two after I put a new internet-enabled thermostat in my home, I can put new software on it and make it learn new tricks. Even if the vendor doesn’t agree with me. Just like the rest of my house: once the builder has delivered the house, I can take out walls, repaint everything green and put my bed in the kitchen if I like. A fork, so to speak, from the builder’s plans. And I want to fork the sensors, the actuators, and the code. Why should I voluntarily limit the choices I have in my house?

Addition: I Just had a “motivated” argument with Scoble about this over lunch, who believes “it’s over, it cannot be done, spying is here to stay, because non-spying is non-competitive”. That’s a valid point of view (although the non-competitive part needed to be proven; I don’t take this at face value.) I just hope not. I don’t want to turn a world like this over to my children.

P.S. Check out UBOS, which is part of my Indie IoT vision.