Privacy and Ethics

The Internet of Things raises new challenges in the areas of security, privacy and ethics.


Privacy and Security

While arguably less sensitive than domains such as health and education, transport and highways maintenance still have potential privacy and security concerns. One of the key privacy issues is that the risk associated with data release can be hard to predict.

For example consider the case of a roadside sensor that streams data on the number of cars that pass by the sensor. Would releasing this data compromise an individuals privacy ? At first glance the answer would appear to be no - none of the data is tagged with a personally identifiable attribute. However, suppose that you are now told that the sensor is placed on a road that leads to a single house. Suddenly the data becomes much more sensitive and its release is clearly likely to violate the privacy of the resident of that house.

The point from the above case study is that even highly anonymous data can cause problems unless care is taken not just to anonymise the data but also to aggregate it such that links to individuals can not be formed.

Security in the IoT is an area of much research activity, in part because it is so closely linked to privacy and ethical issues and in part because without a secure IoT there is little chance of widespread commercial adoption. The Smart Streets hub secures data streams and developers must obtain API keys before accessing the data.

For a full discussion of the security and privacy issue see :



Ethics in the IoT is a major topic. Like any new technology the IoT raises ethical concerns about its potential use. Central to much of this is the notion of trust and the extent to which users are able to trust the underlying system. This trust may relate to trust in the accuracy of the data but can also relate to issues such as trust in the system not to collect data without seeking informed consent.

Ethics in the context of the IoT can also relate to trying to avoid creating systems that increase social injustice - perhaps through the deployment of sensors only in certain neighbourhoods.

An excellent discussion of the ethical issues of the IoT can be found in the EU’s latest fact sheet on the topic: