Now is the Time to Act – Let’s Create a Better, Safer Connected World

Today is a call to action to work even closer together – across borders, between private and public sector, and especially, with citizens and consumers everywhere. A new report, the State of the Connected World 2023 Edition, from the World Economic Forum paints a stark difference between our desired state and the realities of the current state of IoT in the minds of consumers and industry experts. While there have been positive changes in interoperability and in financial and operational sustainability of the IoT, the report finds that still over 80% of respondents are not very confident that their personal data privacy is safeguarded, and over 70% are not confident in the security of the IoT. This is not a siren song, but a full-throated call to action. It’s rejoinder to all technologists working to bring connected devices, experiences, and services to market to focus on and tackle these challenges.

How to tackle this? Integrity. Mutual respect. These are the foundations on which we can build. These are the pillars that buttress lasting societies. These will guide us to build a sustainable, connected world, and must be at the forefront as we work to get to a place of real interoperability, security, privacy, accessibility, and simplicity. Only with this approach will we gain the trust, and the right, to bring connected devices and experiences into so many people’s homes and lives. As Jeff Merritt, head of Urban Transformation at the Forum notes, this kind of collective action and dedication can “…improve individual security, and protect small and medium-sized business, transit systems, utilities – everything that relies on connected devices.” If we can fly a drone on Mars, we can do this.

In my mind, we set ourselves up for collective success when we create a climate for collaboration. If we build communities of mutual respect, create clear guidelines for appropriate boundaries in our work, practice a healthy respect for minority opinions, and form and support an apparatus in place for conflict resolution, we are doing the right thing. This has been the hallmark of the Connectivity Standards Alliance for more than 20 years.

In October 2022, we introduced Matter. This unified standard, a common, IP-based protocol for the Internet of Things, supported and built by large ecosystems, device manufacturers, startups, and established communications companies, has broken down barriers for the IoT in interoperability, development, and end use for industry leaders and consumers alike. But this was not a happy accident; it was achieved by also removing barriers that inhibited collaboration. We certainly made side trips along the way, and we’re continually learning how to do better – but we’re all committed to moving forward, with the mutual respect that provides longevity and reach for our work. Now, as the Forum’s report calls out the continued gap in security – only 4% of the world’s experts polled are ‘confident’ connected devices are secure – I know we can close that gap together.

The effort to deliver IoT interoperability began in 2017 during an Alliance HIVE industry workshop conducted under the Chatham House Rules, allowing for vigorous, respectful debate. General principles of what “good” would look like were the result, which took us down the path that ultimately led to the Matter standard, now supported by more than 300 global companies, and integrated into hundreds of brands and products.  This model reduced company and personal bias and shifted the focus to what I call the “highest common denominator” – leading to outcomes that are higher value for all, not just a few. A similarly purposeful approach was taken with Zigbee and has been a proof point for the Alliance and industry, where using an equitable “one company, one vote” process, ensures the resulting standard is not dominated by the few, rather created by and for the many.

Just as Matter creates a baseline for IoT interoperability, security and greater accessibility for all, now is the time for the industry to come together with an aligned, global ethos to create a baseline for consumer digital protection for the IoT. This will involve the same give and take, where not one facet of industry or regulations imposes its will over others – but rather everyone works toward clear, common goals. We obviously have the technology to make protecting consumer digital sovereignty a reality. The hard, but reachable, goal is creating a collaborative environment for the greater good of both consumers and the industry.

To that end, Alliance members are taking steps forward today. Our Product Security Working Group is focused on harmonizing global regulatory requirements to make it easier and more clear for companies to comply with and deliver secure products and new work in IoT data privacy will increase transparency for and validate use of IoT data.
As the world becomes more digitally interconnected, consumers everywhere will be faced with new and different ways their personal data and identity might be used. Increasingly, bad actors are also putting our collective security and data privacy at risk. Protecting what consumers should enjoy as “digital sovereignty” in the IoT will take a focused and collaborative effort across the industry, in partnership with governments and regulators. It won’t be easy. The headwinds are strong: differing and fragmented regulations, lack of data transparency from industry, educating consumers, and building trust. But we have the energy; we have the companies; we have the expertise; and now we also have a major wake-up call from the World Economic Forum to spur collective action. Join us. We can, and will, do this. Together.

by Tobin Richardson, Connectivity Standards Alliance, President and CEO