I never though seriously about IoT until Mozilla announcement about Firefox OS pivoting to Connected Devices. What caught my attention was this new team name: connected devices. What is a connected device? Do I have connected devices? Do I ever missed to be able of controlling them from a remote place? Those were the questions I was asking to myself and it turned out that I already knew the answer because I had connected devices just there in my living room (video console, TV and home-cinema) and yes, I wanted to control them remotely.
These days I was thinking about the not-so-far future with most of my domestic electronics connected, generating data, signals going and coming through the Internet and devices accepting remote control from anyplace where Internet works. I was wondering how will be living those days. In particular, given my professional relationship with Mozilla and my personal experience with the browser Firefox, I was wondering how the browsers will evolve to be part of that future?
The browser is a wonderful piece of software that evolved from nothing more than an hypertext render to what nowadays is known as the user agent (to be precise, the browser is a kind of user agent). A user agent such as modern browsers not only displays the Web as it’s expected but implements a set of measures and policies to keep the user, their privacy and their data safe. Web companies, foundations and institutions have agreed on those policies and all the browsers implement them. This way you can change from one browser to another without compromising your security or privacy.
This works as the consumer point of view. The user agent defends you from the Internet. It exposes a safe portion of the Web.
But what we miss from time to time is the other side of the browsing experience: the producer point of view. Web users are producers of a huge volume of data. This data is being used to analyze our behavioral patterns and extract information. The advertising economic model of the Web is quite simple: create a space to spend time, put some cameras and study user patterns and then sell the placement of the proper content in specific places.
You probably started to notice that advertising follows you, it displays content quite aligned with your day to day and you have probably experimented that sense of being watched when Google seems to know about your forthcoming appointments or travels. If you spend your time in front of a computer you probably use the browser a lot. When you use the browser, you’re navigating safe but the browser can not prevent you for an irresponsible sharing of your privacy. At least, it tries to keep most of your data with you.
Now think about your domestic electronics and personal devices producing and sharing data. This is a lot of data and it is your data. When your connected devices will be talking to the service providers, where will end your information? Will it be shared? Will be possible for a company to manipulate your light bulbs, thermostat, washing machine or TV without your approval? You must demand control, safety and freedom.
As I want to use the Web for interacting with my devices, this is what I want my user agent to become: a regulator for my connected devices. In the same way it is a proxy of my digital life on the Internet, I want my browser to represent my connected environments (my home, my car, me myself…). Why do I want the Web to interface my connected devices? Because the Web is accessible and ubiquitous.
In my ideal future, I can manage my connected environments from any browser, in any platform, at any place (this is freedom), granting and revoking permissions for specific web services to specify the way in which they access my electronics (this is control) and I want the IoT players to push for open solutions, developing a fair game with clear rules and transparent technologies (this allows safety).
Implementing this reality is not a trivial task. How I identify myself as the owner of my connected environments? How can I keep this information safe but accessible from any point? If I switch to a new browser, how could I make this new browser to know about my digital identity? Should the connected devices expose an administration API for my browser to regulate them or they should send the data to some kind of master device which actually manages data traffic?
These questions have answers coming from a range of disciplines and they will require to develop new software and efficient hardware, to design new user experiences, to write new specifications, protocols and standards but moreover, they will demand a joined effort from the several Web companies.
In the same way the World Wide Web emerged from the Internet of Computers, Mainframes and Servers, the Web of Things will emerge from IoT. It is the mission of user agents and the institutions behind them to help the user to keep the ownership of their digital life in this new medium.