It's Time to Build the Internet of Trusted Things | Opinion

Our world is now filled with "smart" devices that promise to make our lives more connected and convenient. From digital assistants like Alexa to home appliances that are controlled by our iPhones, the "Internet of Things" is expanding by the day. But these days, a more connected lifestyle also comes with a hidden price—the loss of our privacy and peace of mind.

Today, the average American owns about eight connected devices, which capture all types of data about our online and offline activities. Whether we like it or not, tech giants harvest vast amounts of data directly from our devices, which is mined, sold and often leaked. With the threat now expanding from the digital to the physical world, our homes, vehicles and city infrastructure are at risk of being compromised. It's time to reclaim our privacy and peace of mind. It's time to build the Internet of Trusted Things.

What is the Internet of Trusted Things? It is truly being able to trust our devices—right down to our toasters—to make our lives easier, not more stressful. It is making sure the tools and services we use cannot be disrupted due to malice or negligence. It is knowing that our personal information cannot be taken, mined or sold without our consent. It is reclaiming our fundamental right to own our data, our identities and our privacy.

This may sound too good to be true, but it isn't. New technologies with "privacy by design" and military-grade security are already a part of our daily lives. The next step is to link these technologies together to build modern devices and networks with privacy and trust as a primary goal.

The first technology is secure hardware. Look no further than credit cards, which recently replaced vulnerable magnetic strips with secure chips. This simple shift from "swipe" to "insert" has made our physical credit cards virtually impossible to hack. This same principle must be applied to all of our devices to ensure they are ultra-secure.

On top of this, we must add trusted computing: a technology that can handle our information without exposing us to the risk of data leaks. For example, trusted computing enables us to unlock our phones using fingerprint- or face-ID with full privacy protection. Extending this technology to all aspects of our lives will establish newfound trust between people and devices, giving us the peace of mind of knowing that they are truly working for us.

The last piece of the puzzle is blockchain technology. Blockchains are virtually unhackable databases that provide a transparent record of all activities on a network. Blockchains are an ideal foundation to power our future machine economies. Because of its fundamental security, the technology is already helping to establish new global standards in finance, supply chain and energy. Extending its capabilities to our physical devices will be a major positive step.

Today, people are required to make a tough choice: accept the "Terms & Conditions" and give up your privacy, or forego the benefits of the modern internet. This is the status quo we have been conditioned to accept, and precisely what the Internet of Trusted Things will disrupt. The combination of the three technological tools described here—secure hardware, trusted computing and blockchain—will allow us to truly trust our devices and move beyond false choices between convenience and privacy. By shifting data ownership from corporations back to the consumer, ordinary people can live a connected lifestyle without surrendering their privacy.

To illustrate this, take the example of a health tracker, such as a Fitbit or Apple Watch. These devices have become ubiquitous, capturing some of the most sensitive information there can be about a person: heart rate, sleep patterns, menstrual cycles and more. Today, this data is owned not by consumers but by major corporations whose business models are largely based on sharing it with third parties. In the Internet of Trusted Things, this data will be encrypted from the instant it is generated and owned by the user and no one else. This allows us to choose whether to keep our information fully private or share it with others—a doctor, perhaps, or a fitness instructor—and to determine how long it remains available. A simple but transformational concept that can help establish a future where control is vested in the individual.

Toaster
HomePixel/iStock/Getty

What can we do to start moving toward the Internet of Trusted Things? There are a few steps we can take today. The most important is to be aware of the security and privacy features of our devices. Just as a person should read a food product's nutritional information before buying it, we should investigate and understand how the devices we bring into our homes and lives will store, manage and transmit our data. The more that we demand trust and security in our connected lives, the quicker we can build a true Internet of Trusted Things, so that our toasters—and all our other devices—will work for us, and not the other way around.

Raullen Chai is the CEO of IoTeX.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.