The Internet of Things and Ethics – Project Sherpa (2022)

“The Internet of Things is … the latest, most hyped concept in the IT world” (Madakam, Ramaswamy, Tripathi 2015). It is
“An open and comprehensive network of intelligent objects that have the capacity to auto-organize, share information, data and resources, reacting and acting in face of situations and changes in the environment” (ibid.)

How to Cite
Antoniou, J., & Andreou, A. (2019). Case Study : The Internet of Things and Ethics.ORBIT Journal,2(2). https://doi.org/10.29297/orbit.v2i2.111[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Access to SIS

Those who have access to a software that handles data is also likely to have access to the data. Access to data handled through the IoT poses access risks, as the system is by definition connected to the Internet. Design with respect to access controls is therefore important as well as issue of consent, which we deal with below. It is not unusual that several of the identified ethical issues interconnect for a particular SIS.
The specific IoT software under consideration in this report is designed, developed and distributed by CRM.COM. Once acquired, the customers of CRM.COM use it to track or to bill their own customers. As such it is quite important to be cautious with the handling of data across the hierarchy of system users.
In our system, we give the ability to our customers to take consent from their customers. We give them the ability to configure how the system will work depending on the state of consent. For example, if the customer has not consented, it is not possible to allow the customer to use the system in a full functionality or even delete the customer from the system. So, we included consent.’ (PanayiotaDemou)
Nevertheless, it is not always straightforward, because the system users have the technological freedom to abuse the system, e.g.
‘they could use information to set up offers for their customers. If they want to target a specific group of customers it’s up to them if they are going to do it or not’. (George Rossides)
The question that arises is whether the software design company can do anything to control such type of access to the SIS, and the answer is that, the software is designed to trace those cases and can provide a related audit log of the software users’ activity. Where access control leads to malicious use is discussed below.

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Discrimination and Inequality

Discrimination and inequality were the ethical issues most dominant in the literature review, which drew mostly from cases of employee monitoring. Regarding the specific SIS under consideration for this report, this is not a major issue, as it deals primarily with asset tracking for billing.
Nevertheless, the ability of the companies that acquire the software to install it locally, and thus not be monitored by CRM.COM, avoiding any detection of potential malicious use of the system, opens the door for ethical violations by the customers themselves. In fact, the interviewees were asked whether the new owners of the software could monitor a specific group of their customer base and the CRM.COM software designers replied:
‘Yes they could. Especially if we are talking about the billing, which is an important part of their business process.’(GeorgeRossides)
Hence, from the capabilities of the software point of view, there is potential for discrimination of potential users of the software.
In terms of inequality, this is an issue that may arise because the access rights and permissions to the IoT software are provided to the administrators of the software within the businesses of the customers, and ultimately the access to the SIS collected data is controlled by these employees’ judgement; therefore, the potential for inequality issues exists. CRM.COM provides administrators withthe ability to provide access rights to specific roles in their company so that
‘not everyone has access to everything – it’s up to the customers.’(George Rossides)

Informed Consent

One of the main policies that has been highlighted by the enforcement of the GDPR across Europe, has been the policy of informed consent. Providing the opportunity to stakeholders to consent to the collection, manipulation, or deletion of data is very significant to ensuring data protection. CRM.COM has incorporated informed consent as a basic feature in its software:
‘In our system, we give the ability to our customers to take consent from their customers. We give them the ability to configure how the system will work depending on the state of consent. For example, if the customer has not consented, it is not possible to allow the customer to use the system in a full functionality or even delete the customer from the system.’ (PanayiotaDemou)
Specifically, the implemented consent forms allow the product to give the freedom to the customer (business) to select the level of commitment to the software usage:
‘we have some states [in the software design] that will determine the functionality of each customer based on their consent. We give the ability to every customer to consent themselves or to withdraw at any time. It depends on our customers how they will set up their system based on their business needs.’ (PanayiotaDemou)
Although this has been initiated as an attempt to assist their clients to be GDPR-compliant, the implementation of consent forms enhances the feeling of trust that customers have in the software. In addition to informed consent, additional implemented features enhance the levels of trust, including:
‘the ability to anonymise customers based on specific criteria, or if the customers want to be anonymised or deleted from the system’. (George Rossides)

Potential for malicious use

Even though the technology provides for features that can encourageethical use of the system, the possibility for system abuse cannot be totally excluded. An example of abuse of the system could be that the customers (businesses) installing the system use it to collect data that can help them set up offers to their customers as a marketing technique. The software safeguards against such malicious system usage by keeping logs of activity, in order to be able to trace such cases when necessary:
‘if they abuse the system to target specific cases then we provide a full audit log that can be used to trace those cases’. (George Rossides)
However, there is no official policy to address such behaviour. The actions that will be taken in case malicious use of the system is detected, varies:
‘It depends on the type of the abuse. It could be just to inform them to stop doing what they are doing or it could be stopping the service for them’. (George Rossides)
The interviewees elaborated on risks of abusing the software, especially if such software is not designed or implemented correctly. Such risks may include
‘breach of personal data, malicious software coming into your personal device… those kind of things’. (PanayiotaDemou)
Adopting the design of mechanisms such as consent forms and anonymization of data in the IoT software ensures a level of security towards the customers (businesses), as well as their own customers. Moreover, encryption in communicating the generated data also safeguards against the malicious use of such data; for example, in the case that data is maliciously eavesdropped or intercepted by third parties:
‘All the information which is exchanged between the systems is encrypted’. (George Rossides)

Privacy

IoT is by its very nature susceptible to privacy breaches as it has been used in businesses to monitor and track users and their environment, without the need for human intervention. According to the interviewees,
‘When it comes to the IoT, we are basically using it to track the devices that consume the subscription services and to get information that might be billable.’ (George Rossides)
Furthermore, the IoT software is used to track the customer (business) in order to assess billing capabilities:
‘We are tracking the customer. For example, we might have a client who gives printing machines to his customers and based on the usage of the printing machines, the company will charge the customers accordingly. What we do is that we get this usage from the printing machines and we bill them’. (George Rossides)
Considering the collection of data is necessary to continue with billing, the software is designed not to collect any sensitive information, although some personal information is collected for identification purposes:
‘Other than IDs and passwords we don’t have any sensitive information in our system up to now. This is anonymized if the customer requires we retrieve’. (George Rossides)
The matter of anonymising the information is significant to ensure that the information cannot be used maliciously if retrieved or intercepted without the appropriate permissions. This anonymization policy is also supported by the software design and use in terms of data storage and generation of usage logs:
‘We don’t keep this information. We have a full anonymization. We don’t keep personal data in the logs, e.g. passwords’. (George Rossides)
Being questioned whether the customers of CRM.COM are aware of the generation of logs, the interviewees claimed that they,
have included specific clauses in [their] contract with [their] clients so that they know that we have access and if they have their own log enabled they will check where our users logged into and what they’ve seen.’ (George Rossides)
Moreover, the access to the software for support and maintenance, including access to the data and activity logs, comes with the service that CRM.COM provides, although the customers themselves often have the opportunity to deny access to collected data from their side of operations:
We always provide support unless the customer requests otherwise. It’s the nature of our business. We don’t have a process to ensure that we don’t have access to sensitive information during maintenance but of course, if a customer requests it then the access is removed from their side. It is usually up to the customer because they provide access to us and not the other way around’. (George Rossides)
From the narrative above, we have already identified that according to the interviewees, in addition to data necessary for billing, e.g. asset’s consumption, the only items of personal data collected are IDs and Passwords for identification purposes, although all data is anonymised prior to being stored. The names are retrievable, though, through a process known as pseudonymisation, which allows the original data to be retrievable upon request:
‘this is anonymized, if the customer requires we retrieve. We don’t keep this information. We have a full anonymization. We don’t keep personal data in the logs, eg passwords.’ (George Rossides)
It is useful to note here, that both anonymization and pseudonymisation are acceptable from a legal perspective as GDPR mechanisms for preventing personal data exposure, and that the interviewees are clearly aware of this.

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Transparency and Trust

Transparency of software design and handling is an important aspect, especially when transparency points to open source software. Transparency increases the likelihood of identifying any biases in the software design and development. In private organisations, the practice of open source software is not possible due to the competitive nature of the market and thus transparency capabilities or opportunities are important to the user for privately developed software. This is especially significant when a data collection process is established by the software and trust is required on behalf of the customer that no personal or sensitive data will be exposed.
The mechanism concerned with such issues of trust and transparency in the design of the IoTsoftware under consideration in this report is the use of logs to capture the activity:
‘we provide a full audit log of which users did what and when reporting of those actions’. (George Rossides)
In the spirit of transparency, the customers are made aware of this mechanism:
‘we have included specific clauses in our contract with our clients so that they know that we have access and if they have their own log enabled they will check where our users logged into and what they’ve see’. (George Rossides)
The customers can of course stop this:
‘if a customer requests it then the access is removed from their side. […] It is usually up to the customer because they provide access to us and not the other way around’. (George Rossides)
Although the mechanism is there to support transparency and trust it is not a feature that can be enforced upon the customers to use, same as consent forms.

Conclusion

This IoT case study introduced an IoT-powered software for asset tracking, a process that requires live data collection including personal data. The software design process in this case requires to consider relevant legislation, responsibility issues and delivery and support of software. Despite the attempts made within the software design and development phases to incorporate as many features as possible to promote the software’s ethical and responsible use, there are still a number of ethical issuesthat need to be addressed when theIoT SIS technology is used by its users, e.g. privacy, transparency and trust; often businesses themselves (e.g. retail or technology businesses) that can use it to track their own customers and employees.
The interviews with two software designers from CRM.COM offered perspectives into the design and development policies and guidelines, the methods of considering legislation within the software design process and the ethical risks in the use of such a technology. During the interviews a number of practical, organisational and ethical issues were addressed such the ethics of access to the SIS, specifically the IoT-based software, potential ethical issues of discrimination and equality, that may arise from the use of the SIS, the importance of informed consent, especially with the enforcement of GDPR across Europe, potential of malicious use of the SIS in its current form, issues of privacy, etc.
Responsible software design and consequently a software that incorporates features of such responsible design is the desired outcome of any software product. The enforcement of the GDPR further elevated the significance of responsibility within the software design process to ensure ethical and unbiased data handling and use. The interviewees suggested that the GDPR was indeed a reason for more responsible software design but they also pointed out:
‘We usually take those issues into consideration when designing software for our system but once we knew that GDPR is going to be happening and taken into account, we decided to introduce some specific new features in order to help our customers comply with GDPR’. (PanayiotaDemou)
The design and use of the software is thus susceptible to human discretion. Appropriate policies and employee training could be steps to improving this challenge.

Limitations

In addition to the particular aspects of the use of IoT in software design and development for tracking applications, which have been highlighted in the report, there still exist certain limitations of the product design and use that the company can address in the future. Specifically, there is currently no formal policy to dictate the actions to be taken in case of system abuse, once the abuse has been detected using the system logs. The abuse refers to violations of ethical principles in terms of misusing collected data, for instance, to further the company’s marketing campaign. Even though the mechanisms are in place to capture such behaviour, the company has no official policy on how to act once such behaviouris detected.
Another limitation is that the administrators of the software in case of standalone installations on local servers can solely control access to the system. The administrators, in this case, are employees of the customer businesses and the company that developed the software has no monitoring access to the logs unless given by the administrators. The administrators also can assign permissions to the use of the software at their own discretion. To avoid using the software according to the discretion of each user, appropriate policies and/or employee training could overcome the specific limitation.

Contribution to knowledge

Overall, the area of using IoT-based tracking and monitoring applications to assist and enhance specific business processes is growing and becoming increasingly popular, both in terms of development and use. Being a new research area, however, it lacks sufficient literature that examines the ethical, social, economic and legal implications of the use of this technology. Such studies into the design, development and use of such IoT-based applications present important relevant information that enriches the state-of-the-art literature on the topic both from an academic and a practical perspective.

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Implications of this report

This report offers an original case study on the use of an IoT related SIS in the software design and development area. From the extensive research on the topic presented mainly in section 1, it is evident that there has been very little research conducted in the application of the specific SIS in industry. Academically, the issue of IoT usage has been investigated vigorously, however, the tracking and monitoring aspects and their theoretical implications, when using this technology, is limited. Conversely, many of the ethical and legal issues discussed in this report have been analysed more generally within academia and assessed in other areas of application, but have rarely been associated with the IoT usage for tracking and monitoring. Therefore, this report will be highly valuable for the development and furthering of theory, knowledge and application for designing, developing and using such IoT based applications.

Further Research

The report presented considerations for the design and development of software applications based on IoT technology that can be used by businesses (e.g. retail) for tracking and monitoring purposes, in order to improve their business processes’ efficiency. However, the use of IoT and the related data collection raises certain ethical considerations that must also be taken into consideration. The specific software is in fact, designed to capture some of these concerns by incorporating data protection friendly features such as consent forms, encryption and anonymity capabilities. Further research would need to validate that the use of the software with these features overcomes initial ethical concerns, otherwise software design methodologies should revisit the design in order to address any remaining issues. Relevant proposed training at a business level should also be addressed by future work, as well as consequent policy at a more global level, since the use of such software is only expected to increase in the future.

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FAQs

What are the ethics of IoT? ›

Ethics focuses on the honesty or deceit of a matter. The device manufacturers must accept accountability to protect the privacy of consumers who purchase and use their devices. More so, the data needs to be protected because the data is IoT's true value.

What are 3 ethical concerns regarding the Internet of things? ›

Subsequent sections consider particular ethical issues, including: informed consent (Section 2), privacy (Section 3), information security (Section 4), physical safety (Section 5), and trust (Section 6). Section 7 emphasizes that these ethical issues do not exist in isolation, but converge and intersect in myriad ways.

Does the Internet of things discriminate Why or why not? ›

However, the IoT can discriminate against certain groups of people that do not have access to the internet. There are many countries and lower income families that do not have access to the internet, so they will not be able to reap the benefits offered by the Internet of things.

What are the characteristics of Internet of things? ›

Let's discuss it one by one.
  • Connectivity – Connectivity is an important requirement of the IoT infrastructure. ...
  • Intelligence and Identity – The extraction of knowledge from the generated data is very important. ...
  • Scalability – ...
  • Dynamic and Self-Adapting (Complexity) – ...
  • Architecture – ...
  • Safety –
12 Apr 2022

What are considered ethical issues? ›

The most commonly experienced ethical issues include discrimination, harassment, unethical accounting, technological abuse, data privacy, health and safety, and favoritism and nepotism. Most of these concerns are experienced in workplaces.

What unethical practices are possible in internet research? ›

Participant privacy, confidentiality and anonymity. Participant privacy, confidentiality and anonymity were the most commonly reported ethical concerns. These concerns are applicable to internet research across all disciplines, not just those involving families and children.

Are there any ethical issues raised by smart products? ›

Security and privacy are the key ethical problems in the smart home, such as security attack, analysis of "non-sensitive" data, improper information collection and data abuse.

What are the two most important principles in AI ethics? ›

AI is good for people & planet. AI should not harm citizens. AI is in service of mankind.

How does the internet of things affect privacy? ›

The passive nature of many IoT devices can make it difficult for individuals to be informed that their personal information is being collected. Devices in public spaces can collect information automatically, sometimes relying on individuals to opt-out if they do not want their information collected.

What are the legal and ethical issues of using Internet search engines? ›

The use of search engines has generated a cluster of ethical concerns including: (1) search-engine bias and the problem of opacity/non-transparency, (2) personal privacy and informed consent, (3) monitoring and surveillance, and (4) censorship and democracy.

What's an example of ethical dilemma? ›

Some examples of ethical dilemma include: Taking credit for others' work. Offering a client a worse product for your own profit. Utilizing inside knowledge for your own profit.

What is IoT give 5 examples? ›

In short, the Internet of Things refers to the rapidly growing network of connected objects that are able to collect and exchange data in real time using embedded sensors. Thermostats, cars, lights, refrigerators, and more appliances can all be connected to the IoT.

What are the negative impacts of IoT? ›

Internet of Things Negative Impacts:

Easy availability of age unsuitable content materials and information. Social networks disturb life personally and professionally. Stealing data or hacking into IoT devices is easy.

How can Internet of Things be misused? ›

An abusive person can also misuse an IoT device by downloading spyware or hacking into the actual device, network, or account linked to the device.

What is the goal of IoT? ›

The goal behind the Internet of things is to have devices that self report in real-time, improving efficiency and bringing important information to the surface more quickly than a system depending on human intervention.

Why Internet of Things is important today? ›

Why is IoT important? The internet of things helps people live and work smarter, as well as gain complete control over their lives. In addition to offering smart devices to automate homes, IoT is essential to business.

What is advantage of IoT? ›

It can assist in the smarter control of homes and cities via mobile phones. It enhances security and offers personal protection. By automating activities, it saves us a lot of time. Information is easily accessible, even if we are far away from our actual location, and it is updated frequently in real time.

What are the 7 principles of ethics? ›

The Fundamental Principles of Ethics
  • Beneficence. ...
  • Nonmaleficence. ...
  • Autonomy. ...
  • Informed Consent. ...
  • Truth-Telling. ...
  • Confidentiality. ...
  • Justice.

How can ethical issues be resolved? ›

A 10-Step Process for Resolving Ethical Issues
  1. Identify the problem as you see it.
  2. Get the story straight—gather relevant data. ...
  3. Ask yourself if the problem is a regulatory issue or a process issue related to regulatory requirements.
  4. Compare the issue to a specific rule in ASHA's Code of Ethics.

What are basic ethics? ›

The expression "basic ethical principles" refers to those general judgments that serve as a justification for particular ethical prescriptions and evaluations of human actions.

What's the importance of ethics in Internet research? ›

Principles of research ethics dictate that researchers must ensure there are adequate provisions to protect the privacy of subjects and to maintain the confidentiality of any data collected.

What is the main risk of using the Internet for research purposes? ›

In most internet-based research, the primary risk of harm is a breach of confidentiality.

How can you apply ethics online? ›

Online ethics
  1. Private stays private. A private conversation has to stay private. ...
  2. Don't misquote. ...
  3. Never plagiarise. ...
  4. Give credit where possible. ...
  5. Be open about affliations. ...
  6. Resist anonymity. ...
  7. Be polite. ...
  8. Don't go overboard.
8 Dec 2010

What are the 5 ethical considerations? ›

Ethical considerations during evaluation include:
  • Informed consent.
  • Voluntary participation.
  • Do no harm.
  • Confidentiality.
  • Anonymity.
  • Only assess relevant components.

What is the importance of ethics in emerging technologies? ›

The ethics of emerging technologies can only make use of speculative data about future products, uses and impacts. The ethics of entrenched technologies can arrive at better informed moral evaluations of and prescriptions for research and development.

What legal or ethical issues could emerge if any related to individuals living in smart homes? ›

However, important ethical challenges arise when implementing smart houses, including cost-effectiveness, privacy, autonomy, informed consent, dignity, safety, and trust.

What are the ethical issues of artificial intelligence? ›

The legal and ethical issues that confront society due to Artificial Intelligence (AI) include privacy and surveillance, bias or discrimination, and potentially the philosophical challenge is the role of human judgment.

What is AI ethics in simple words? ›

AI ethics is a set of values, principles, and techniques that employ widely accepted standards of right and wrong to guide moral conduct in the development and use of AI technologies.

What is AI ethics with a example explain? ›

AI ethics is a system of moral principles and techniques intended to inform the development and responsible use of artificial intelligence technology. As AI has become integral to products and services, organizations are starting to develop AI codes of ethics.

What are professional ethical principles on AI IoT and Big data? ›

AI is good for people & planet. AI should not harm citizens. AI is in service of mankind. Explainable AI.

Why is privacy an ethical concern of the IoT? ›

In an IoT environment, since personal data will be in system owner's hand, and it may not be possible to control each data flow, thus ethical manner and observing user rights is highly significant. Regulations are evolving as regulators understanding increases as to IoT vulnerabilities.

What are the common ethical rules that must be applied in all technologies? ›

The following are common areas of technology ethics.
  • Access Rights. Access to empowering technology as a right or freedom.
  • Accountability. The rules of accountability for decisions made by technology.
  • Digital Rights. ...
  • Environment. ...
  • Existential Risk. ...
  • Freedom. ...
  • Health & Safety. ...
  • Human Enhancement.
13 Dec 2016

What are the ethical implications of augmented reality? ›

Ethical concerns that designers should consider when developing VR/AR products include physical, psychological, moral, and social concerns. Physical concerns include health and safety issues such as dizziness, falling down, or tripping over equipment while immersed in a scenario (Behr et al., 2005).

What is AI ethics explain with an example? ›

AI ethics is a set of guidelines that advise on the design and outcomes of artificial intelligence. Human beings come with all sorts of cognitive biases, such as recency and confirmation bias, and those inherent biases are exhibited in our behaviors and subsequently, our data.

Why is ethics important in artificial intelligence? ›

In conclusion, the implementation of ethics is crucial for AI systems for multiple reasons: to provide safety guidelines that can prevent existential risks for humanity, to solve any issues related to bias, to build friendly AI systems that will adopt our ethical standards, and to help humanity flourish.

What are the ethical implications of artificial intelligence? ›

The legal and ethical issues that confront society due to Artificial Intelligence (AI) include privacy and surveillance, bias or discrimination, and potentially the philosophical challenge is the role of human judgment.

How does the Internet of things affect privacy? ›

The passive nature of many IoT devices can make it difficult for individuals to be informed that their personal information is being collected. Devices in public spaces can collect information automatically, sometimes relying on individuals to opt-out if they do not want their information collected.

Are there any ethical issues raised by smart products? ›

Security and privacy are the key ethical problems in the smart home, such as security attack, analysis of "non-sensitive" data, improper information collection and data abuse.

How can we protect participants privacy? ›

To protect participants' confidentiality, you should encrypt computer-based files, store documents (i.e., signed consent forms) in a locked file cabinet and remove personal identifiers from study documents as soon as possible.

What are the 7 principles of ethics? ›

The Fundamental Principles of Ethics
  • Beneficence. ...
  • Nonmaleficence. ...
  • Autonomy. ...
  • Informed Consent. ...
  • Truth-Telling. ...
  • Confidentiality. ...
  • Justice.

What are the 5 ethical considerations? ›

Ethical considerations during evaluation include:
  • Informed consent.
  • Voluntary participation.
  • Do no harm.
  • Confidentiality.
  • Anonymity.
  • Only assess relevant components.

What is the most important of ethics in emerging technology? ›

The ethics of emerging technologies tends to have its focus on research and development of these technologies, as these are realities that can be assessed and redirected on the basis ethical assessments.

How can you describe ethics? ›

Ethics examines the rational justification for our moral judgments; it studies what is morally right or wrong, just or unjust. In a broader sense, ethics reflects on human beings and their interaction with nature and with other humans, on freedom, on responsibility and on justice.

Is virtual reality realistic? ›

The fact is that the developers have put in a lot of effort to take you into a specific, simulated world and a lot of what you see – although not real, feels very real. The thing is, VR headsets actually just give you a visual representation of the simulated reality; other elements – such as smell, touch, etc.

What is mixed reality technology? ›

Mixed reality is a blend of physical and digital worlds, unlocking natural and intuitive 3D human, computer, and environmental interactions. This new reality is based on advancements in computer vision, graphical processing, display technologies, input systems, and cloud computing.

Videos

1. How, when and why science fails to correct itself
(European Research Council)
2. Shaping the ethical dimensions of information technologies – a European perspective (SHERPA)
(Paris Peace Forum)
3. Immersive Technology, Cultural Data & AI Ethics for SDGs
(Evenness)
4. AI4EU Cafe: AI, Ethics and Human Rights Designing a Better World
(AI4EU)
5. 2022 - What can AI learn from your face? The making of HowNormalAmI.eu
(MCH2022)
6. dIScover Seminar Series: Artificial Intelligence for a Better Future
(University of Sheffield Information School)

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