Are NZ organisations ready for the Internet of Things Age?

Trio partner Brenda Saunders recently chaired a panel discussion on The Internet of Things at a Public Relations Institute of NZ Senior Practitioners’ Event in Wellington. Here’s her introduction to the subject.

OK, so you’ve got your head around Google, iPhones, iPads and Cloud computing. Maybe you’re even a dab-hand at social media and stakeholder databases. But are you ready for the next big technology leap coming down the pipeline? Well, actually, it’s not coming next – some of it is here already.
For example, Apple has recently launched its wristband device and a company called MOTA has unveiled its SmartRing technology, while an Australian guy called Ben Slater has had a microchip implanted in his hand in anticipation of being able to link to databases of personal information. And what are the implications of the new facial recognition billboards being trialled in Japan that can recognise you by name and deliver customer-specific advertisements? Is that being helpful or intrusive? How will consumers react to this technology?

We’re talking about The Internet of Things (IoT) where personal devices and wearable technology are connected to the internet and interactions are logged, transmitted, and shared with others in real time. In a recent blogpost on PR Conversations the general secretary of the PR Global Alliance Catherine Arrow described this new era as a ‘seismic social shift’ and one which will present PR practitioners and communicators with a host of ethical and moral challenges.

Why are we facing challenges? As we’ve seen recently in New Zealand through the “Dirty Politics” saga, what was once considered private and behind closed doors is no longer. Technology can reach into the most private corners of our lives. We find ourselves sharing personal information with organisations even when we don’t realise it just by our actions and shopping habits. How much more will we share when the technology becomes wearable? And how will organisations and marketers use that information and the big data they amass responsibly and ethically? Just because you have the ability to do something like phone or email hacking, should you do it? Are your organisations and clients ready to be truly transparent as their every interaction is laid bare to consumers and stakeholders? Will this be an ethical nightmare for organisations and communicators, as some have suggested, or just another social shift we’ll take in our stride?

In a recent blogpost on PR Conversations the general secretary of the PR Global Alliance Catherine Arrow described this new era as a ‘seismic social shift’ and one which will present PR practitioners and communicators with a host of ethical and moral challenges.

Purdue University computer science professor Eugene Spafford is researching the risks and benefits of the so-called Internet of Things. Spafford believes that full transparency is the only way to ethically integrate these new technologies into society. If the consumer is given full knowledge of the data that will be collected and who will have access to it, then he or she could make an educated choice on the adoption of the technology.

He believes that, regardless of the level that individual privacy is compromised, mass adoption of the Internet of Things is likely.

“There is always a threshold where utility outweighs the sacrifice of privacy. In a 2011 survey of 1000 smart phone users, 98% reported privacy and transparency as a serious concern. It is a small minority, however, who abstains from smartphone use altogether because of privacy concerns. In the next ten years, we will see whether society continues to lean towards utility and data over a sense of privacy,” he writes.

So, are New Zealand organisations ready for this new age of transparency? How will they need to adapt their communication strategies to embrace the Internet of Things Age?