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Privacy and the Internet of Things by Gilad Rosner

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What Is the IoT?

So, what is the IoT? There’s no single agreed-upon definition, but the term goes back to at least 1999, when Kevin Ashton, then-director of the Auto-ID Center at MIT, coined the phrase.6 However, the idea of networked noncomputer devices far predates Ashton’s term. In the late 1970s, caffeine-fixated computer programmers at Carnegie Mellon University connected the local Coca Cola machine to the Arpanet, the predecessor to the Internet.7 In the decades since, several overlapping concepts emerged to describe a world of devices that talk among themselves, quietly, monitoring machines and human beings alike: ambient intelligence, contextual computing, ubiquitous computing, machine-to-machine (M2M), and most recently, cyber-physical systems.

The IoT encompasses several converging trends, such as widespread and inexpensive telecommunications and local network access, cheap sensors and computing power, miniaturization, location positioning technology (like GPS), inexpensive prototyping, and the ubiquity of smartphones as a platform for device interfaces. The US National Security Telecommunications Advisory Committee wrote in late 2014:8 “the IoT differs from previous technological advances because it has surpassed the confines of computer networks and is connecting directly to the physical world.”

One term that seems interchangeable with the IoT is connected devices, because the focus is on purpose-built devices rather than more generic computers. Your laptop, your desktop, ...

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