Who owns the Internet of Things?

Iot breadboard

“We empower users to be the masters of their own domain, ” is the eighth tenant of the IoT Manifesto and it hints at a solution to one of the big issues with connected things. When a user buys and connects a gadget to the network, who owns that device and the data it generates? Currently that depends on the technology and the company that collects or stores the data from it.

A device is owned by whomever controls its data and can access the data easily, regardless of who paid for it. An empowered user has a fine control on permissions for 3rd parties, and is given a platform to easily interact with information generated about them. These two qualities (control and access) define if a user or a company owns the data made by a connected thing. We are going to look at how two different IoT companies handle data ownership.


Enlightened, Inc is a company that designs intelligent lighting controls. Their product video shows how the system collects data related to the environmental variables like light level, temperature, and useage to adjust the output of overhead lighting. This company is a good example of a budding IoT product line, and shows how relatively new companies handle device and data ownership.

Currently the Enlightened product line does not appear to communicate with 3rd party devices or apps. The only way to access information from the sensors is through a proprietary web application. This does not empower a user. This could be solved if sensor data was made accessible to other devices and apps and the user was given direct control over who and what could access that data.


fitbit product line

We are all somewhat familiar with Fitbit, the wearable health monitor that you put on your wrist. Fitbit provides the most popular health monitors on the market with over 21 million sold, making it one of the most mature IoT applications. These products also generate a lot of personal and private information and it would be nice to have full control over where that ends up.

Fitbit, Inc was nice enough to provide us with an API to give users and developers access to some of the information generated by the wearable. Users are also given a bit of control over the data because they have to grant access to applications that require personal information. But the company has places restrictions on who can access up to the minute information with their partner API and they can sell anonymized data generated by the device (outlined in the Privacy Policy). Both of these practices make sense and are viable however they could be improved.

Empowering Users

Technology will soon integrate further with each other, and it is the user who should decide how data is used. Properly designed electronics will need to be easily accessible to others on the network as well as intelligent about where generated data goes.

The examples above provide a look at how companies are currently working on solutions to this problem of data ownership. Users who own their data are given full access and control of their devices and the information created by them are empowered. Properly following the IoT Manifesto means designing things that easily connect to other devices and applications and giving control over the information sent to them.

Let me know what you think will about ownership in the internet of things below in the comments or find me on twitter. How do you think the companies in this article could improve their policies to further empower their users?