"Permissionless Innovation" Is Why You Have No Privacy and the Internet of Things Is Potentially Dangerous

If there's been one constant running through a substantial amount of technology news over the past year or so, it's that traditional notions of "privacy" are becoming untenable in our connected age. Whether it's apps and smartphones harvesting our sensitive data and selling it off to third parties or browser cookies tracing our virtual footsteps or the NSA vacuuming up every byte it can, it's increasingly difficult to interface with the modern world while retaining any meaningful stewardship over our personal information.

The short answer for why this is seems simple: it's profitable for companies to harvest your data, and so your data is harvested. But there's a more nuanced theory for what's happening and it's called "permissionless innovation." Adam Thierer, a senior research fellow at George Mason University's Mercatus Center who is preparing a book on the subject, explains:

[Permissionless innovation] refers to the notion that experimentation with new technologies and business models should generally be permitted by default. Unless a compelling case can be made that a new invention will bring serious harm to society, innovation should be allowed to continue unabated and problems, if they develop at all, can be addressed later.

In other words, it is better for innovation, our economy and even our quality of living if business interests are privileged over the individual's interests in privacy or security against potential threats (unless those threats are "compelling"). Since individual notions about what constitutes adequate privacy vary, Thierer argues, the default assumption should be for businesses to take first and apologize later (see: Snapchat). It's an inversion of the old saw, "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure."

There's certainly a compelling case to be made for this kind of freewheeling approach across many technological categories, but Thierer specifically singles out the emergence of connected devices (the "Internet of Things" or IoT) as an area where "permissionless innovation" be allowed to flourish. Here, though, the issue isn't simply consumer privacy but security:

While we are still very early in this debate, we can expect rising calls for preemptive regulatory controls on IoT technologies based on various safety, security, and especially privacy rationales. If the precautionary principle mentality wins out and trumps the permissionless innovation ethos that has already powered the first wave of the digital revolution, it will have profound ramifications. As I’ll note in my forthcoming eBook, preserving and extending the permissionless innovation ethos to the Internet of Things is not about “protecting corporate profits” or assisting any particular technology, industry sector, or set of innovators. Rather, preserving an environment in which permissionless innovation can flourish is about ensuring that individuals as both citizens and consumers continue to enjoy the myriad benefits that accompany an open, innovative information ecosystem. More profoundly, this general freedom to innovate is essential for powering the next great wave of industrial innovation and rejuvenating our dynamic, high-growth economy. Even more profoundly, this is about preserving social and economic freedom more generally while rejecting the central-planning mentality and methods that throughout history have stifled human progress and prosperity.

Thierer's solution to any potential dangers posed by the IoT is that those should be handled via "education and empowerment, social pressure, societal norms, voluntary self-regulation, transparency efforts, and targeted enforcement of existing legal norms (especially through the common law)."

Is this enough when we're talking about the inherent vulnerabilities posed by the IoT? In this instance, we're not talking simply about the selling of your intimate personal details but about the fundamental security of devices you use to regulate your home's temperature, store and prepare food, and protect your home. Thierer himself said that social pressure is asking for "more, more, more!" IoT devices, not "more, more, more!" security, so that avenue is closed off.

Indeed, it is the ethos of permissionless innovation that has arguably created the IoT threat in the first place.

READ ENTIRE ARTICLE HERE: http://www.realcleartechnology.com/articles/2014/01/15/permissionless_innovation_is_why_you_have_no_privacy_and_the_internet_of_things_is_potentially_dangerous.html

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