Refrigerator

Think Tank

Your Refrigerator Has Become Self-Aware

The rise of the machines is upon us—the rise of machine-to-machine connectivity, that is. The next stage of the Internet's development is the "Web of Things." Simply put, this means that the normal, everyday things—appliances, buildings, cars—will be hooked into the web and able to transmit and receive information independently of you. AT&T announced a major partnership with four companies that specialized in M2M application development this week. Meanwhile, Vodaphone and Intel confirmed today that they would jointly develop a kit for companies wanting to implement M2M functionality in their products. 

These announcements have gone largely under the radar in the media, but the significance is huge. Businesses stand to reap massive rewards with this shift to M2M, boosting customer service and profit margins. But for the consumer, the reality is not so black and white. 

On the one hand, the convenience factor is huge: empty pill bottles could communicate with pharmacies for a refill or empty milk cartons could signal for their automatic replacement. Tracking devices on lost pets could ensure their speedy recovery; cars might upload their latest engine diagnostics to the service department in advance of an appointment; billboards could have up-to-the-minute information about gas prices. And the list goes on. 

But the major concern, of course, is privacy. As Facebook's privacy battles have made very clear, mundane information about consumers—what bands you like, what brands of food you eat—is very valuable to marketers. "Forget spam, your biggest worry to come won't be the latest phishing scam," reports Renee Oricchio of Inc.com. "More likely, it will be something like your refrigerator or home alarm system ratting you out to marketing companies." 

Will we have to program every kitchen appliance with as much care as we do our Facebook profiles? That alone would wipe out any advances in productivity such technologies would offer in the first place.

Below, Harvard Law Professor Jonathan Zittrain discusses Facebook's attack on our privacy in his Big Think interview:

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