The Uncloud: Why Owning Your Data Matters More on the Internet of Things

in Philosophy

IoT doesn't have to mean the events of your life and business get stored to a server in California. But the truth is, privacy with IoT is really part of a much bigger conversation.

By now, none of us is any stranger to the potential problems surrounding big data, and the fact that any number of organizations around the world have nearly carte blanche access to data on every step you take throughout your day. And we all seem to be largely OK with it. Or at least resigned to it.

So consumers, riddle me this: how OK are you with these same companies knowing how often you hit the loo? What about how often you open the refrigerator? How many times you walk in to this room vs. that room? Whether your home is unlocked?

Or, for industry:

IoT brings the promise of huge cost reductions in every aspect of your operations, new insights in to the real-time events that drive your business, and considerable new opportunities for those keen to creatively explore its potential.

All for the low, low cost of giving a few giant corporations a stream of every single data point that drives your business. Is this a cost savings or corporate espionage rebranded as a service and sold to you for a monthly fee?

Let’s call it EaaS (Espionage as a Service).

Here’s the fundamental difference between big data pre-IoT and big data with IoT

Pre-IoT: data points are largely relate to your relationship with that software. How many times you visit a website, your posts on social media, where carry your smartphone.

With IoT: data points are every single thing you do in life or your business. Life’s events will soon be data points, aggregatable, measurable, monetizable.

Most of us assume that with a problem as big as IoT, the big-data boys are surely going to tackle the issue. They’re the most obvious choice. They have lots of expertise in establishing infrastructure to handle and store firehoses of data and render that data back to us in half-decent user interfaces.

And we are all familiar with how these folks do business:

  • You get “free” software
  • Your data becomes the product that is sold to advertisers
  • Advertisers convince you that you need a bigger television
  • The cycle repeats

Don’t worry, these companies GOT this.

Your bowel movements will be safe and sound on a server in California. And Utah. Or Cheltenham. Who knows, maybe they’ll even keep track of them at the library of congress.

You know for…posterity.

And as soon as you return from the toilet you’ll see a targeted ad for extra padded toilet paper, providing far superior wiping experience to the one you have just endured using that lousy economy paper.

Thank space for the Internet of Things!

Although, maybe, it doesn’t have to be that way.

Maybe our private lives and businesses can remain just that – private. And maybe, just maybe, we can maintain that privacy and harness the limitless potential of IoT.

But, one more thing before we get to that.

Privacy != Security*, and Vice Versa

* For non-programmers ‘!=’ means ‘does not equal’.

Let’s say none of this bothers you. You’re “with it“. You’re super meta. You’ve accepted your value in life as a data point. Kool aid is great stuff! Trouble is you’ve put your trust in these companies being able to permanently secure your data.

The reality is no system is impenetrable, nor is appropriate long-term administration of these data stores assured.

Now, consider that if these companies don’t have your data in the first place – they can’t lose it.

Alright, back to privacy. Let’s brainstorm for a moment on IoT infrastructure.

The Cloud – Their Way

View of typical cloud service infrastructure

The infrastructure of a typical Cloud IoT service means you send your data up in to their cloud, they promise not to look, and sent both your data and a UI back to you. There is a better way.

This is the model you are used to. It’s how nearly every single cloud service operates. This model bears considerable responsibility for the demise of our privacy.

Under this model, these companies, their employees, major governments and their contractors, and of course, capable hackers all have access to this data.

When you consider that “the Internet of Things” could as appropriately be called “the Internet of Your Life”, it’s hardly sensational to deem the application of this model to IoT as a nightmare scenario.

Not only that, the often proprietary nature of these clouds presents a considerable issue for industry. Proprietary clouds mean proprietary lock-in. What if the weather changes, and theses clouds blow away? What is needed instead is open standards and interoperability.

From a competitive standpoint, how long do you expect to maintain a competitive edge while you fund the corporate EaaS (Espionage as a Service) of your own company with your monthly subscription fee?

The Uncloud – Our Way

We propose a new way of offering software services for the IoT, where your data is yours and stays that way, but we still provide great software that leverages that data. We call it “The Uncloud®”.

The Uncloud* says data sharing / publication doesn’t have to be all or nothing. The Uncloud says you can control your data streams, what goes in and what comes out. The Uncloud says use local intelligence on data to act immediately and achieve substantial reductions in cost for services delivery.

Here is the general idea of how an Uncloud application is architected:

The Uncloud from ThingStudio

ThingStudio is architected on the concept of The Uncloud

At ThingStudio we’ve used Uncloud architecture to solve one particular issue: user interfaces for the Internet of Things. We have designed ThingStudio so that we are completely incapable of seeing your data: it literally never passes through our servers.

When you load up a ThingStudio application, you have two websocket connections:

  • One to your MQTT broker
  • Another to ThingStudio, whereby we serve your UI

Your data feed is then merged with your UI on your device, and presto, private IoT UIs.

ThingStudio Infrastructure

Here is how we our infrastructure is setup. Notice that your data passes directly from your MQTT broker to your device, never passing through our servers.

But The Uncloud is about more than just privacy. It’s about security, latency, bandwidth and scalability.

Security is up to you. Your data is as secure or insecure as you make it.

Latency of your data streams is more or less equal to the latency of your local network.

Bandwidth is higher over local networks generally by at least an order of magnitude.

Now, aside from privacy, scalability is the truly interesting issue about the Uncloud. To store lots of data, the big guys need massive infrastructure, huge failovers, rife with all kinds of complications. This necessity dictates their business models.

It would seem prudent to posit the question as we’re still early on in IoT: do we need to persist every doorbell ring to a database? Every temperature sensor reading? Certainly an argument could be made, but the exception proves the rule for the majority of similar examples.

Using local intelligence to act on data streams as they happen, and reducing the volume of what is stored in the long term changes the fundamental cost equation for operationalizing IoT.

So, all of this means that the Uncloud is really part of a broader discussion on business models for the Internet.

* Props to Mike for coining “The Uncloud”. Brilliant.

Thinking Bigger

Here is the state of many large internet businesses, circa 2015:
1) Give away software to users
2) Sell their data
3) Profit

The truth is, it doesn’t have to be this way.

You do not have to sell the souls of your users
to be in business on the internet.

When you take big data out of the equation, you have to find another way to make money.

At ThingStudio, we started out with these simple ideas:

  • IoT means lots of new hardware coming online. That hardware is going to need user interfaces. User interfaces are hard. Let’s solve that.
  • Let’s not F everybody in the process. Their data is theirs.

So, how do we plan on making money with an Uncloud at ThingStudio? We’re working on several different potential models, but two things you can be certain of: 1) for hackers and makers, personal use of ThingStudio is always going to be free, and 2) we will never monetize your data. Ever.

But here’s a hint. As many are fond of saying about IoT, “it’s an ecosystem play.” True dat.

To see The Uncloud and our approach in action, sign up for ThingStudio now – for free!

Paul likes to work on growth, product & design. Tweets occasionally @paulisloud.

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