Is the Internet of Things Bringing Feudalism Back?

We now live in a world where hackers can break into casinos through their fish tanks. This recent incident, in which hackers managed to use a casino’s fish tank’s sensors to control the computers they were connected to, has illustrated a big problem with the Internet of Things and the questions of control and ownership.

Connected devices around us are constantly gathering information about our environment as well as ourselves, whether it’s our smartphone, Fitbit, smart TV or thermostat. We might buy them, but the companies that make them still exercise some degree of control over them in the sense that they take their data and use it as they please. This was seen in the recent news that iRobot plans to share maps of people’s private homes created by their Roombas with commercial partners.

A recent invasion of privacy case was settled by the makers of erotic massage device WeVibe when users found out that it was collecting data about how often they were using it, along with the times of day and settings they preferred.

In another example of how the concept of ownership is moving away from customers, John Deere has told farmers that they do not actually own their tractors; instead, they are just licensing the software, which means they can’t take their own farm equipment to a repair shop or even try to fix it on their own. This has prompted a lot of objections among farmers. If that sounds outrageous to you, consider the fact that a similar concept could well apply to your smartphone, smart toilet, and connected car.

Digital Serfs Subject to Digital Lords

This calls to mind the feudal systems that existed in medieval Europe – something that most of us would like to think is firmly in the past. Washington and Lee University’s Joshua A.T. Fairfield says that in our modern version, companies are leveraging intellectual property laws to control the objects that we think we own once we’ve paid for them. This, he says, makes us little more than digital peasants who are subject to the whims of our digital lords.

One can only hope that as people becoming increasingly aware of what is really going on – and increasingly outraged by it – there will be a real shift in behavior on the part of these companies and consumers will have more control over the goods they pay for.

This blog post was based off of an article from the Good Men Project. View the original here.

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