IoT in the Industry 4.0 – Our data – collaboration or use?

On 7 February, a meeting was held in Madrid at the Vodafone Observatory of the Company, where experts in the cloud, artificial intelligence, robotics and digital transformation gave a vision on how to face the challenges of industry 4.0. In previous articles by Joan Balbastre about Industry 4.0, we could see what characterizes this industrial revolution and its basic design principles. In these articles, up to six different principles are named and one of them allows us to focus on this text: service orientation. This orientation turned out to be the fundamental axis of the whole event.

It is true that, in the face of strong competition between companies from different sectors, the optimization of the products or services provided has become a priority. There are many ways to improve a company or product. In recent years, information gathering has become one of the fundamental pillars on which the Industry 4.0 revolution is based. The data collected from consumers allows companies to perform different actions such as preventive maintenance, quality assurance, real-time defect management, operations management, etc. A clear example of the change that companies in the industry are undergoing is the case of Quality Espresso, which has gone from producing only one product, designing, producing and marketing coffee makers, to the provision of an added service thanks to the collection of information. Quality Espresso coffee machines not only allow connectivity with different devices, but are also able to collect statistical information for the company, in order to improve the products or even influence the design of new ones, as indicated in the event.

Not long ago there was the paradigm of “neural networks”, but we did not have a complex amount of data to process about products and services, nor the computational capacity for all this.

The computerization of the industry through the speed of technological changes has led to less barriers for communication and information processing.

Illustration 1: Virtual assistant recently arrived in Spain with Echo smart speakers

The development of neuronal architectures that allow this information to be managed makes the world look like a set of data and, as is normal for many of us, the security of this information produces concerns and mistrust.

As we can see today, every time the advertisements of companies seem to hit the consumer at a level that is almost individualized. The “listen to us” is one of the most popularly known ideas when we talk about IoT devices, as we have seen in recent advertising campaigns.

Actually, the fact is that to improve any product or service it is necessary to have good feedback from the customer. In this way, when carrying out the data processing, consumption patterns or preferences can be extracted such as: natural vs. synthetic, rent vs. own, personalized versus generic treatment or quality vs. quantity. Relevant characteristics that can guide a company in the development of a product and even in the production of new ones and, who better than us, as consumers, to create the trend line of product or service development?

But, at this point, we can introduce the concept of data access ethics extrapolated from the event. Data that is collected for a single, transparent and legitimate purpose, as anonymous as possible for the improvement of a service or product.

We accept the sections of use and treatment of personal data when we acquire a product or service and, generally, we tend to assume them without even giving it the relevance it deserves, perhaps motivated by the extensive reading that has to be done.

Illustration 2: Mind the Cyber Things – Adam Harvey

Given the increase in the volume of information, it is presumed that, in the development of the algorithms for processing this data, the ethics of data access is used. However, as soon as we start investigating this issue, we may find several cases in which the collection and use of this data is allegedly misused for other purposes not specific to the product or service, or even for third parties, such as the recent and striking case of selling information to third parties by Facebook.

As users, we should be more aware of the risks we assume when accepting the processing of our data and not allowing them by default.
Apparently, the dynamics are simple, companies obtain information to improve their products and we, as consumers, obtain better products and/or services in compensation. But, at this point, several questions arise. What data are we providing? To what extent do third parties not intervene in our data? Do we help them only to improve a product or service that we consume? Or will they possibly benefit more?

Perhaps we have stopped counting as people, to become just numbers.

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