Towards An Ethical Guide to Making the Internet of Things

The Unbox Caravan offered a space for us to reflect on the ethics of what we make. Many of us were interested in the Internet of Things as an emerging field where questions about privacy, security, openness and more will be teased out. For this reason, we wanted to discuss the ethics of making the Internet of Things.

As a reference, we began by examining existing manifestos and ethical guidelines. These documents included the Mozilla Manifesto, the Four Software Freedoms, the IoT Design Manifesto and the Three Laws of Robotics.

We discussed whether the values outlined in these documents are relevant for IoT: what has changed since they were written, what is missing and what is still compelling. We were also interested in how these texts interact with each other. For example, the Four Software Freedoms define what Free Software is, and this term is later incorporated in the Mozilla Manifesto as an important contributor to the Internet as a public resource.

Instead of creating a new manifesto, we decided that a useful next step would be to synthesize the values we think are essential to the Internet of Things and to then create tools that help people who use and produce technology make informed decisions about products and services. In this way, we can directly put our values into action.

One way we anticipate this project taking shape is as an Internet of Things Scorecard. Inspired by nutritional facts on food packaging and projects like Greenpeace’s Click Green Scorecard, our project would rate IoT products along several key indicators such as privacy, security and openness.

We anticipate many uses for this scorecard. One would be as a research tool in Mozilla’s annual State of the Web report, where we could track changes in the IoT landscape over time. We would also be interested in speaking with consumer rights groups to apply the scorecard further and in using it as a guideline when beginning and assessing our own projects.

— Michelle Thorne (@thornet), Bobby Richter (@secretrobotron), Michael Henretty (@mikehenrty), David Ascher (@davidascher), and Vladan Joler (@thecreatureslab)