The Business of Things

The story of the Internet of Things is different from the story of the other Internet

Alasdair Allan


There really is only one business model on the modern Internet, and that’s advertising. People have refused to subscribe to services or pay for content. Instead, advertising supports the services that sit underneath almost everything we do on the Web. Think for a minute about how your day-to-day experience of the Web would be different if Google charged a monthly subscription fee for its search service, or used a micro-payment based approach to charge on a search-by-search basis.

It seems almost inconceivable doesn’t it? Your mind is probably rebelling at the idea of each and every search being a thing that is chargeable, that costs you actual money.In the same way that the move from dial-up, where you were very much aware that every minute you spent online was chargeable, to broadband, where you now pay a flat monthly fee, affected how you used the Internet; the lack of apparent cost changes how you use services and consume content. “All-you-can-consume” changes not just the amount of content you consume, but the way you use the content.

A series of almost accidental decisions and circumstances have led to a world where most things on the Internet are “free at point of use.” That doesn’t mean they’re free, just that we pay for them in other ways. For the most part we’re all aware of how we pay — in privacy — but we put it out of our minds. Nonetheless, our data and our attention are the currency we use to pay Google for our searches or Facebook for keeping us in touch with our friends.

It’s not clear to me, though, whether the current age where privacy is no longer “a social norm” will long survive the coming of the Internet of Things, because the story of the Internet of Things is different from the story of the Internet itself.

Big data is all very well when it is harvested quietly, silently, and stealthily behind the scenes. To a lot of people, the digital Internet still isn’t as real as the world outside. But it may well be a different matter altogether when your Things start to tattle on you behind your back.