EU Trying To Determine Future Of Government's Role In Growing Internet
April 13, 2012

EU Trying To Determine Future Of Government’s Role In Growing Internet

The European Commissioner has opened an investigation into how the Internet might be spreading to a number of household appliances before 2020.

The regulator is launching a consultation over controls of the way information is gathered, stored and processed, giving the public an invitation to send in its views on the matter before July 12.

The commission says the average person living in Europe currently has at least two devices connected to the Internet.

It said it expects that figure to rise to seven by 2015, with a total of 25 billion wirelessly connected devices around the world.  By the end of the decade, there may be as many as 50 billion devices connected to the Internet.

"If a university teacher cancels a morning lecture because they are sick, students' alarm clocks and coffee machines could automatically be reset," the EU wrote in an example.

"If an elderly person forgets to take an essential pill, a warning message could be sent to a close family member."

Arm Holdings announced a new "Flycatcher" architecture in March that could pave the way for licensees to build the "most energy-efficient microprocessors" to date.

Intel also announced a partnership with the Institute of Automation of Chinese Academy Sciences earlier this week to create a research center in Beijing to develop related core technologies.

"From a legal point of view the internet of things is the next big thing," Dai Davis, an information technology lawyer at Percy Crow Davis, told BBC News.

"Usually European legislation lags years behind technology - we have seen that with recent data privacy regulation. It is worth noting that this won't be the first time the EU has consulted on the subject - but we have yet to see significant action."

Campaign group Privacy International said it intended to take part in the process to ensure that the new technologies do not endanger our private lives.

"Sharing highly sensitive personal data - like medical information - to a network of wireless devices automatically creates certain risks and vulnerabilities, so security and privacy need to be built in at the earliest stages of the development process," spokeswoman Emma Draper told BBC.

The EU has created a survey in order to gain a better perspective of public opinion on the growing internet, asking the question "How would you envisage the 'governance' of such an 'Internet of Things'."

"The Internet of Things (IoT) may increase privacy issues also because smart objects may exchange data automatically, potentially without involved humans being aware of it," the EU wrote in its prerequisite in a section of the survey. "Automated decisions may create a perception of loss of control (or lead to actual loss of control) because one of the main goals of the IoT is to give some autonomy to the objects for automated decisions."

EU officials are also looking into how they can control the market without dominant players becoming a monopoly.

“Realizing the enormous economic and societal potential of the IoT requires a level playing field where all players can compete on an equal footing, without gate keepers and locked-in users,” the consultation document said.

The commission said it plans to publish its recommendations by the summer of 2013.