The 2023 State of the Connected World report, the only global report to identify major governance gaps in the Internet of Things (IoT), was just released at the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting this past January. Over 270 experts from around the world were surveyed to analyze and understand the current state of the connected world and to highlight universal governance protocols necessary to build a more secure Internet – especially as cyberattacks have become increasingly prevalent.
According to the report, only 4% of experts worldwide are “confident” that connected devices are properly secure.
Governance gaps emerge when liable roles fail to recognize how multiple issues and actors are interlinked. Closing governance gaps has been particularly challenging as sustainability is a key issue that intersects several sectors of society, including livelihoods, agriculture, or in this case, technology. The report establishes clear priorities for businesses and government leaders to address identified risks in connected technologies, emphasizing how governance gaps obstruct the full potential for such tech to transform our lives.
In 2015, more than 15 billion devices were in use, and by 2022, that number nearly tripled to 43 billion. By 2025, it is projected that 75 billion devices will be in use around the world. The report highlighted how the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the face of IoT and related technologies, with new use cases and applications having emerged, bolstering a demand in areas such as healthcare, manufacturing, and consumer IoT. While innovative technologies are improving our everyday lives, the lack of confidence in areas such as privacy and security may stifle progress due to challenges in the ability to regulate industries and implement standards.
Ethical and responsible uses of technologies and data was surveyed as the area with the largest perceived governance gap due to lack of protocols around ethical usage of data. Although users are wanting more control over privacy, policies have fallen short. Digital literacy is also lacking, with around 80% of experts stating consumers and organizations don’t have enough information or data transparency, on top of insufficient data privacy regulations. Experts strongly recommend more user education and awareness, and better information sharing between companies, users, and regulators.
Bridging technology equity gaps has also been challenging, as there are still many barriers to achieving widespread equity that would ultimately improve the lives of the most vulnerable populations. Without addressing the current structural inequalities and inequities in access to information and technology, such as the increasing number of people living in sub-Saharan Africa without electricity, the world will continue to fall short of ensuring universal access to affordable and reliable sustainable energy by 2030. The report highlights public-private collaboration as necessary to develop baseline protocols that are applicable to all connected devices, including universal governance around ethical use, security, and equity.
The EthicalGEO Initiative’s Locus Charter aims to bridge some of these gaps. By developing an international, universal set of principles, the Charter hopes businesses and organizations, governments, and anyone using location data can adopt such practices and ultimately help create a safer digital environment that benefits us all.