The Impact of the Internet of Things (IoT) on Society and Commerce

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Image used courtesy of ComSoc. Copyright © 2017.

The Internet of Things has a great impact on our world and this will continue to grow in the coming years. We are entering an era in which everything we own has the potential to be connected. Gartner predicts that IoT devices will expand at a rapid rate, and estimated that up to 21 million devices will be connected to the internet by 2020.  This blog post will discuss the current and future implications of the IoT on society and commerce.

Impact on Society:

There are many positive implications of the IoT on society, most importantly it will result in an increase in consumer efficiency. As more and more devices become interconnected, people will no longer need to worry about forgetting to turn off the tap after brushing their teeth or running out of milk in the fridge. Household items, fridges, water systems, and plumbing will all be connected to the internet, enabling various tasks to be done, with minimal human interference, meaning you can focus on the more important things in life, like earning money. Forgot to lock your house on your way to work? no problem, your smart home will take care of that by locking itself the moment you leave the door. Ran out of cheese? not an issue, order more with the touch of a button. This is actually possible with the Amazon Dash button, UK customers can now push a button when they run out of toilet rolls or washing powder – and within 24 hours a package will arrive at the front door. It is a big example of how the IoT is really transforming our world.

Smart Cities

Smart cities will be here soon, using the latest big data analytics and the power of the IoT to transform cities into an interconnected platform using the newest innovative technologies and improving the quality of life of all citizens. Half of the current human population lives in towns and cities and according to UN forecasts, it will have reached 9 billion by 2050 and 70% of that number will be city-dwellers.  The aim of smart cities is to improve eco-awareness by increasingly harnessing the power of renewable energy, leading to more sustainability and providing a solution to the challenges of urbanisation. Moreover, it aims to utilise technology to its full extent, improving citizen’s quality of life.

Smart Tech

Speaking of smart technology, Samsung released its SmartThings starter kit in September 2015, a home system that allows you to remotely monitor and control your home through the SmartThings app that receives information from the multi sensor devices and power outlets connected around your home. These devices all connect to the main hub which forms the base for your various connected devices. Samsung believes that by using SmartThings, ‘any home can be a smart home’. When set up, the home system will enable you to monitor which doors and windows are open around your home, track unexpected movements or figure out when pets enter and leave the house using the multi sensor device, and even control lights and switches using the included power outlet. So there’s absolutely no need to worry if you forgot to turn off the radiator before leaving the house, you can simply switch it off with a tap of a button on your smartphone app.

The home kit only costs £199.99 which is a great bargain for such an advanced kit, meaning that anyone can easily transform their home into a smart home without breaking the bank. This device is also useful for monitoring elderly loved ones in their homes, giving you the peace of mind you deserve.

Security and Privacy concerns

However, there are both security and privacy concerns relating to IoT devices. AT&T’s Cybersecurity Insights Report surveyed more than 5,000 enterprises and found that 85% of those are in the process of or intend to deploy IoT devices. Yet a mere 10% of those surveyed feel confident that they could secure those devices against hackers. Therefore, security breaching is a great issue surrounding IoT technologies. Researchers have also found that certain home devices including Samsung’s SmartThings is susceptible to data exploitation by hackers as it suffers from several security vulnerabilities that hackers could exploit and seize control of devices such as smart locks connected to the SmartThings system.

Privacy is also an issue with some households generating over 150 million discrete data points everyday. IoT devices rely heavily on cloud storage therefore there are concerns over data exploitation, thus creating an increased chance for hackers to steal sensitive information. The privacy associated with wearable devices is also under question. Read my last blog post here, highlighting the privacy issues surrounding wearables. Both security and privacy issues could deter any future consumers from purchasing connected devices, thus preventing IoT from fulfilling its potential.

Impact on Commerce 

From the 1990’s, IoT has allowed online shopping to be available allowing more convenience and easier access to goods whenever, wherever. This led to the explosion of e-commerce websites like eBay and Amazon. Today, e-commerce is a dominant force in retail. Global e-commerce transactions totalled $1.058 trillion in 2012, according to Statista. The company predicts that this figure will more than double to $2.356 trillion in 2018.  There are several advantages to online shopping, it saves time, fuel, and the fact that it is online means that is open 24/7 so there is no need to postpone your shopping due to closing times, like in traditional retail stores. However, long delivery times can be an issue for consumers.

Loyalty cards that provide points for every product bought have been used by retailers to entice customers to shop from their store and has proved exceptionally popular, especially Tesco Clubcard, with 79% of UK adults signed up. These points can be converted to vouchers for use in store, or redeemed for restaurant vouchers, cinema or amusement park tickets, appealing to a large number of people, including families. The IoT in use behind these loyalty cards allows for a more personalised shopping experience by using big data analytics to suggest similar products that the consumer is likely to be interested in. This not only helps advertising but also creates a more personalised shopping experience for all customers.

The Future of the IoT and Commerce

IoT will continue to digitally disrupt retail and commerce, there have been talks of smart mirrors replacing traditional fitting rooms by allowing shoppers to virtually try on outfits without having to go through the hassle of queuing up for a fitting room. It will even be able to suggest complementary outfits, significantly enhancing the shopping experience. Smart shelves will automatically monitor inventory in stores, notifying the manager if stock is low or missing, preventing any inconveniences experienced by the customer. There have many times in which the price labels do not match the item on the shelves and vice versa, by introducing smart shelves, these mistakes caused by human error will be eliminated once and for all, allowing customers to do their shopping without getting frustrated over mismatched or missing items. Connected devices will improve operating efficiency, which will in turn save the retailer a lot of money.

However, IoT technologies may contribute to mass unemployment as more and more jobs become automated, human requirement for many retail jobs will diminish and this can be a great issue in business and beyond. Many critics argue that there should be a limit in our level of connectivity and that too much can encourage laziness. Sure, the ability for the lights to automatically switch off before we sleep, preventing us from physically manoeuvring our bodies from the comfort and warmth of our beds does seem appealing but when this concept is applied to nearly every aspect of our lives, how much is too much?

The basis behind IoT devices started off as a method to enhance lives and save valuable time and money but there are some IoT appliance makers that are creating connected home devices aimed at helping people move less. With obesity rising to astonishing levels around the world, this is the last thing we need in today’s society. By 2050, obesity is predicted to affect 60% of adult men and 50% of women in the UK – an alarming statistic. And with all of these devices being released, this figure should continue to increase. Rather than encouraging people to become couch potatoes, we should motivate people to become more physically active and live healthier lives. Fitness trackers like the fitbit are promising but users are increasingly suffering from the health halo, explained in more detail in my previous blog post.

All in all, IoT technologies are great innovations and possess a lot of potential to enhance our quality of life whilst saving us a lot of precious time and money, although one must be cautious about the risks some devices may pose to our overall health, wellbeing and also the dangers that automation may cause in the realm of business and employment.

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