What do smart smoke detectors, interactive underwear and electronic toll tags have in common?
They, and a growing number of sensors in myriad places, are linked to the Internet, creating vast new sources of real-time and individualized data that can be sliced and diced in ways that, for good or evil, will change information consumption and commerce—and roil the media business all over again.
By most accounts, the Internet of Everything, Everywhere, All the Time and Almost Everyone is coming soon.
The number of Internet-connected sensors on inanimate devices (like milk-expiration apps in refrigerators) and living creatures (like ovulation monitors implanted in cows) is expected to quintuple to 50 billion by 2020, according to Cisco Systems, one of the many companies counting on the next turn of technology to help sell all sorts of new hardware for homes and business.
Sensors that passively record the air quality in your home, your heart rate at the gym and the moment you cross the Tappan Zee Bridge will capture an unprecedentedly “holistic picture” of your behavior and your environment, says Shawn G. DuBravac, the chief economist of the Consumer Electronics Association.
“While one sensor might tell us something we want to know, multiple sensors deployed in conjunction might be able to tell us something previously unobserved,” writes DuBravac in a whitepaper at http://tinyurl.com/sensorwp. “Recommendations derived from these sensor arrays can become more than the sum of their parts.”
Although the brewing tsunami of holistic information may be valuable to individuals and businesses, it also could turn out to be invasive and creepy. Only time will tell.
But Google left little doubt that ubiquitous tracking is on the way when it purchased a company called Nest for a nifty $3.2 billion in the opening days of the year. Nest makes Internet-connected thermostats and smoke detectors that continuously monitor the environment in your home to turn down the heat if you sleep late on Sunday or ping your smartphone when the toast burns. One appealing feature of the $130 smoke detector is that it can be silenced by a flick on your phone or a wave of your arm.
While the price Google paid for Nest represents less than 6 percent of the ample cash in its coffers, the transaction raised eyebrows—and some hackles—because it was another step in the tech giant’s growing ability to meticulously monitor our movements.
Google already has the capability to learn the location of our smartphones, the pattern of our searches, the contents of our emails, the engagements on our calendars, the names in our address books, our activity on Google+, the media we consume and a good deal about how we shop and spend our money (as mobile payment technology rolls out, Google will know even more).
With the acquisition of Nest and the additional home-security products (baby monitors, burglar alarms, electronic door locks, etc.) that undoubtedly are on its roadmap, Google will have the theoretical capability—which it so far says it will not use—to seamlessly monitor your activities while you are in the comfort of your home. If and when Google perfects the self-driving car, the company also will be able to track your movements when you are on the go.
Although everyone loves the idea of a smoke detector that can be silenced without fetching a ladder, the Internet of Everything means our lives will be monitored, measured, managed and potentially manipulated in ways we cannot fully appreciate today.
We already are well into the early days of data-driven content presentation and consumption:
Going further, Amazon long since has mastered the art of using data capture and predictive analytics to make the cash register ring. As you contemplate buying a book or power drill at Amazon, the site skillfully points you to additional products that “customers like you” have bought. The recommendations are almost always spot on.
The good news is that the Internet of Everything creates new opportunities for media companies and the marketers who buy advertising from them. The bad news is that it creates new threats for media companies and their advertisers. The challenge is figuring out which is which.
Although the full implications and opportunities of the Internet of Everything remain to be revealed, it needs to be on everyone’s personal and professional radar. Ladies and gentlemen, start your sensors.
Alan D. Mutter is a former newspaper editor who became a Silicon Valley CEO. Today he advises media companies about technology and tech compnies about media. He blogs at Reflections of a Newsosaur (www.newsosaur.blogspot.com).