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IP/09/952

Brussels, 18 June 2009

When your yogurt pots start talking to you: Europe prepares for the internet revolution

The internet is evolving rapidly: while 25 years ago it was connecting only about a thousand users, today it links around 1.5 billion people across the world. An average European has now at least one object that is connected to the internet, be it a computer or mobile phone. But the number of connected devices that are hardly visible, more complex and more mobile around us will multiply a hundred or even a thousand times over the next 5 to 15 years. The European Commission today announced actions to make sure that Europe can play a leading role in shaping these new networks of interconnected objects from books to cars, from electrical appliances to food – in short the emerging 'internet of things'. The EU's Action Plan presented today will help Europeans benefit from this evolution and at the same time address the challenges it raises such as privacy, security and the protection of personal data.

"Every day we see new examples of applications that connect objects to the internet and each other: from cars connected to traffic lights that fight congestion, to home appliances connected to smart power grids and energy metering that allows people to be aware of their electricity consumption or connected pedestrian footpaths that guide the visually impaired," said Viviane Reding, EU Commissioner for Information Society and Media. "The promise of this new development of the internet is as limitless as the number of objects in our daily life it involves. However, we need to make sure that Europeans, as citizens, as entrepreneurs and as consumers, lead the technology, rather than the technology leading us."

Today’s internet links about 1.5 billion users worldwide through computers and mobile devices (about 300 million in the EU). One major development in the coming years will be to progressively connect not only computers but also machines and a variety of physical objects, thus creating the ‘internet of things’. These can be simple everyday items like yogurt pots that record the temperature along their supply chain, or two prescription drugs that warn patients of a possible incompatibility. Or they can be more sophisticated, such as health monitoring or recycling systems that can help address today's societal challenges like the ageing society and climate change. With everyone surrounded daily by several thousand objects, this interconnection of physical objects will amplify the profound effects that modern communications are having on our society.

Among the 14 actions outlined by the Commission today to promote the evolution of this 'internet of things' in the EU (see Annex), are standardisation of the technologies involved across Europe and better funding of research, but also measures to protect people's privacy, data and security as the new technology takes shape around them. Already last month the Commission outlined the importance of putting the protection of people's personal data first as new technologies like smart tags (Radio Frequency Identification Devices – RFID) emerge and presented recommendations as to how this can be best achieved ( IP/09/740 , IP/09/571 ).

The Commission is also working to make sure there are enough internet addresses (which are needed to connect every object to the internet just as they are for websites) for this new wave of connected objects to emerge. This requires the roll out of the latest source of internet addresses (IPv6), setting the conditions for its widespread take-up that will allow objects like household items to have their own internet protocol addresses to connect to other devices ( IP/08/803 ).

Background:

In 2006, the European Commission launched a public consultation ( IP/06/289 ) on the development and use of smart chips (RFID technologies). Based on this it adopted a Communication in March 2007 ( IP/07/332 ) underlining that RFID was only the tip of the iceberg of a broader ongoing evolution evoked under the name of the 'internet of things'.

Today's Action Plan expands on this statement and proposes fourteen-steps to exploit the full potential of this new evolution. The Commission, together with all parties concerned, will now implement this plan and report on the relevant activities in a further Communication in three years time.

Today the European Commission also adopted a strategic Communication on the future of internet governance: see IP/09/951

The Action Plan on the 'internet of things' can be found at:

http://ec.europa.eu/information_society/policy/rfid/index_en.htm

Annex

Internet of Things: A 14-point Action Plan

  • Governance. The Commission will work on the definition of a set of principles underlying the governance of the Internet of Things and the design of an architecture endowed with a sufficient level of decentralised management.

  • Privacy and data protection. The Commission will observe carefully the application of data protection legislation to the Internet of Things.

  • The right to the "silence of the chips". The Commission will launch a debate about whether individuals should be able to disconnect from their networked environment at any moment. Citizens should be able to read basic RFID (Radio Frequency Identification Devices) tags – and destroy them too – to preserve their privacy. Such rights are likely to become more important as RFID and other wireless technologies become small enough to be invisible.

  • Emerging risks. The Commission will take effective action to enable the Internet of Things to meet challenges related to trust, acceptance and security.

  • Vital resource. In connection with its activities on the protection of critical information infrastructures, the Commission will closely follow the development of the Internet of Things into a vital resource for Europe.

  • Standardisation. The Commission will, if necessary, launch additional standardisation mandates related to the Internet of Things.

  • Research. The Commission will continue to finance collaborative research projects in the area of the Internet of Things through the 7 th Framework Programme.

  • Public Private Partnership. The Commission will integrate, as adequate, the Internet of Things in the four research and development public-private partnerships that are being prepared.

  • Innovation. The Commission will launch pilot projects to promote the readiness of EU organisations to effectively deploy marketable, interoperable, secure and privacy-aware Internet of Things applications.

  • Institutional awareness. The Commission will regularly inform the European Parliament and the Council about Internet of Things developments.

  • International dialogue. The Commission will intensify the dialogue on the Internet of Things with its international partners to share information and good practices and agree on relevant joint actions.

  • Environment. The Commission will assess the difficulties of recycling RFID tags as well as the benefits that the presence of these tags can have on the recycling of objects.

  • Statistics. Eurostat will start publishing statistics on the use of RFID technologies in December 2009

  • Evolution. The Commission will gather a representative set of European stakeholders to monitor the evolution of the Internet of Things.


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