The FTC and the Internet of Things


Industry 4.0, the 4th Industrial Revolution, is deeply involved with the Internet of Things. In fact, the Industrial Internet of Things is another term commonly used when talking about Industry 4.0. The term is used to describe the way the internet connects and allows communication among things, not just people.

You jump on your computer and email a colleague, chat with a friend on Skype, or read someone else’s thoughts in the form of a blog post like this one, and you are using the internet to communicate with other people.

When your printer orders ink for itself through a web-based subscription program, it’s using its own email address combined with its sensors to notice that it’s out of ink and put in an order for more ink. The ink is automatically packaged up and mailed to you so that you can replace the ink cartridges in your printer as soon as you need to — which could be as soon as your printer alerts you, on your laptop screen, that it’s out of ink and can’t print that page you asked for until you change the cartridge. This is machine-initiated communication with other machines and with humans.

In a factory, IIoT allows the sensors, drives, controls, and motors to communicate even more, with more machinery, and to automate actions more thoroughly and more precisely. Humans and machines alike communicate and coordinate efforts.

So where does the Federal Trade Commission come into this? It doesn’t yet, but the FTC did announce that it is ready to step in whenever it’s needed.

Commissioner Terrell McSweeny said, at a U.S. Chamber of Commerce event, “We’re not trying to write a big, broad set of regulations around a sector…. Cybersecurity for cars might look very different from cybersecurity for toasters.”

And obviously cybersecurity for machinery that makes cars and toasters might look different, too.

At the same time, as a recent report on the subject from the FTC points out, “In the future, the Internet of Things is likely to meld the virtual and physical worlds together in ways that are currently difficult to comprehend.”

That means that issues like privacy, workers rights, health and safety, and intellectual property rights need to be considered alongside manufacturing efficiency as we move forward toward an interconnected industrial future.

The FTC has an eye on it.


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