Why Thingful sees respect for data owners’ wishes as key to internet of things development

It’s not just discoverability that’s going to be key to getting the most out of the internet of things. As businesses try to combine diverse datasets, handling differing desires around data “entitlement” will also be crucial, Thingful founder Usman Haque argued on Tuesday.

In the first talk at our Structure Connect 2014 conference in San Francisco, Haque pointed out that “not everybody wants to give away data for free or for social networking purposes,” and that means building services around “how owners and creators delegate entitlement to who has access, and on what terms.”

Thingful is an attempt to create a search engine for the internet of things, allowing people to find the output from all kinds of sensors – if I zoom into my neighbourhood in Berlin, for example, I can see readings from nearby connected weather stations.

Haque spoke about the trickiness of finding meaning in all this data, largely because of intention – “It’s important to understand because the person that created that dataset decided to measure this and not that, or here and not there” – but also because of the sensitivity of the data that’s involved, and the effects that will have on interpretation.

“Different individuals and organizations are going to have different comfort levels on what data they’re going to share,” Haque said, adding that this introduces heterogeneity that the industry will need to embrace. For example, some people generating fitness data might want their doctor to see detailed data but relatives to see aggregated, monthly data. Some might want to make their data available to the public, but anonymized with their location fuzzed to the zipcode level.

“The point is, control of data rests in the hands of its owners,” he said. “We need to structure it in a way that people are willing to make that data available.”

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Photo by Jakub Mosur