Prepared or not, the Internet of Things (IoT) is one of the fast-growing technologies taking over the world. Currently, many devices can be interlinked to communicate with each other through a network, from smartphones to robots, smart homes to smart healthcare and smart security to smart agriculture. “Morgan Stanley via British Insider intelligence estimated that there will be more than 75 billion active IoT devices by the end of the year 2020, which will require 7 active IoT devices per person” . With such increasing projection, IoT will play a very vital role in everyone’s life in few years to come. IoT contains important information of individuals that should be confidentially kept and used in an ethical manner. Ethics is a branch of knowledge that deals with moral principles, by providing the codes of ethics and conduct which help engineers on deciding what is right and wrong during the exercise of their work. Larry Niven said “Ethics changes with technology”. IoT is a rapidly growing technology that refers to putting the internet into ordinary devices and services for human use, there is an urgent need to look at ethics in line with the fast-growing technology. This essay examines the critical ethical issues in the use and application of IoT in engineering which will help to understand the relationship between IoT and ethics in a society. IEEE code of ethics states it clearly that all engineers in the world must commit to the highest ethical and professional conduct but there are still many ethical issues that have resulted from the use of IoT in a society .
First and foremost, IoT hinders personal privacy for individuals across the world. It uses localization technologies such as the Global Positioning System (GPS) which uses satellites in space to monitor both the living and nonliving things on earth and in space . Verizon Company which deals in home automation systems offers surveillance cameras and TV sets which can monitor people’s homes which in the end leaves people without privacy . There have been several hacking cases in the world today where malicious people gain unauthorized access to personal or company information. For example on 9th April 2011, the Bank of America website was hacked by a Turkish hacker and the bank lost all its customer's information . This year in June, a hacker behind the 2015 TalkTalk cyber-attack in the UK was sentenced. It is believed that the attack cost the company millions of losses after the personal details of over 157,000 customers were stolen . The code of ethics for IEEE requires that engineers to avoid injuring others, their property, reputation, or employment by false or malicious action and I believe this is not considered in the above privacy cases.
Secondly, although the use of IoT technology in agriculture has a potential to transform the farming methods for increased productivity , there is a growing concern for the use of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) without taking into account the GMO consequences to human life and the environment . The IEEE code of ethics emphasizes engineers to hold paramount the safety, health, and welfare of the public, to strive to comply with ethical designs and sustainable development practice and disclose promptly factors that might endanger the public or the environment. For example, in Uganda, there is still a fierce debate regarding the use of GMOs in the agricultural sector and it is believed that GMOs have got consequential side effects on human life. Besides, according to the Association for Psychological Science in the United States, there is great public opposition to the use of GMOs in agriculture . I, therefore believe that this is a problem that needs to be resolved if the audience is to benefit to the IoT.
In addition to the above, IoT has a potential to improve the efficiency and delivery of health services, but there is a risk of compromising confidentiality with regards to the client’s information. For example, the Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology can be used to insert microchips or tags into humans and animals for medical purposes but this information from the chips can be used maliciously for other purposes such as monitoring a person’s movement without his or her consent. There is also another growing field called Mobile Health (mHealth) where patients can be diagnosed and receive treatment remotely using mobile phones at their comfort zones however data shared between the patients and medical personnel may be subjected to intrusion. This, therefore, endangers people’s privacy contrary to the code of ethics which requires them not to disclose such information to other parties.
Furthermore, there is a growing belief that IoT devices and services are predominant in developed countries than in developing countries but it’s too not doing well in these areas. IEEE Code of ethics advocates for a fair distribution and treatment for all persons regardless of race, national origin, religion, age, disability, and gender expression. However, even for the sake of the developed countries, IoT is more in urban centers than in rural areas, for example, in Ireland there are many IoT devices and services in Dublin than in the rural communities of Limerick, Cork which is a subject of imbalance and discrimination.
Also, mobile phones have been greatly used in this era of IoT to make communication simple, affordable and reliable, however on many occasions, information has been leaked from such gadgets. The cost of mobile phones is becoming cheaper each day that passes while the services offered on the same device are growing at a faster rate. For example, a person can share information using a smartphone with applications such as Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, Viber, tinder, and Imo but this is risky. For example in Uganda, a sex tape for a prominent musician Desire Luzinda was leaked to the public via social media which spoilt her career up to date. It was therefore ethically wrong to share someone’s’ private life with the public.
In Conclusion, since IoT is still growing linearly, there is an urgent need to protect the people and the devices that use services from this interesting technology in health, communication, and agriculture. Engineers must make correct and sound ethical decisions regarding the use and application of IoT in daily life. Freeman Dyson said ‘Technology must be guided by ethics if it is to do more than provide new toys for the rich’. Stringent measures should, therefore, be put in place to ensure that all beneficiaries to IoT devices and services are fully protected by effective solutions with privacy-enhancing technologies like encryption and electronic signatures to enable IoT users enjoy the tremendous benefits of IoT with good ethical practices.
- “75 Billion Devices Will Be Connected To The Internet By 2020 - Business Insider.” [Online]. Available: https://www.businessinsider.com/75-billion-devices-will-be-connected-to-the-internet-by-2020-2013-10?r=US&IR=T. [Accessed: 18-Oct-2019].
- IEEE, “IEEE code of ethics. IEEE, 2006,” no. February 2006, p. 2006.
- A. I. Cuza, “Internet of Things – Some Ethical Issues,” USV Ann. Econ. Public Adm., vol. 13, no. 2(18), pp. 208–214, 2013.
- “Verizon Wireless, Smartphone Deals & Plans | First to 5G.” [Online]. Available: https://www.verizonwireless.com/. [Accessed: 18-Oct-2019].
- “Bank of America Under Hacking Attack? - ABC News.” [Online]. Available: https://abcnews.go.com/blogs/business/2011/10/bank-of-america-under-hacking-attack. [Accessed: 18-Oct-2019].
- “Hacker behind TalkTalk cyber attack sentenced to 4 years in youth detention centre.” [Online]. Available: https://www.thejournal.ie/talktalk-hacker-sentenced-daniel-kelley-4676503-Jun2019/. [Accessed: 18-Oct-2019].
- J. Divilly, “Factors affecting the adoption of Agri-IoT in Ireland,” 2018.
- C. Marris, “Public views on GMOs: Deconstructing the myths,” EMBO Rep., vol. 2, no. 7, pp. 545–548, 2001.
- S. E. Scott, Y. Inbar, and P. Rozin, “Evidence for Absolute Moral Opposition to Genetically Modified Food in the United States,” Perspect. Psychol. Sci., vol. 11, no. 3, pp. 315–324, 2016.