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Diem Hoang Nguyen


Published online: 21 January 2016

Ethical Design: The Brightest Beacon For Privacy Protection in Internet of Things

Ethical Design opens new window for empowering users when interacting with IoT system.

This research was conducted by a group of researchers from various institutions in Europe.The concept Ethical Design is introduced to refer the IoT products which are designed to help individual users protect their personal data and information as well as enable them to frame their ethical choices whenever value-laden issues emerge.

The IoT products based on an Ethical Design should be capable of providing control   of   the  collection and distribution  of  data  or  services  related  to  the  user.  In  other  words,  they  aim  to support  the  ethical  capabilities  of  human  beings  such  as  agency,  awareness  and reflexivity    (requiring    transparency     on   how   data   are  collected    and   distributed). Also, they can enforce  different  regulations or cultures along  the  dimensions  of time (e.g., cultural or regulatory changes) or space (e.g., different nations). Last but not least, they are able to supporting dynamic contexts (e.g., house, office) and able to perceive, identify  and support relationships, which require ethical choices.


Ethical Design model is implemented by policy-based framework. In this framework, user interaction with IoT devices will be controlled by set of security policy configuration rules that specify the conditions when a set of enforcement policy templates should be activated. The policy-based framework can give more control to the user and it can automate some of the complex decision processes in the interaction of the user with the IoT, but a complementary set of regulatory measures and best practices could make the application more effective.


This research was conducted by a group of researchers from various institutions in Europe: European Commission,Joint Research Centre, Ispra, Italy,  GNKS Consult ,Rotterdam,The Netherlands and Universita ’ Cattolica S.C.,Milan, Italy.


If you would like more information about this topic, or to schedule an interview with other authors, please contact:Maarten Botterman at maarten@gnksconsult.com, Ricardo Neisse at Ricardo.Neisse@jrc.ec.europa.eu and Mariachiara Tallacchini at mariachiara.tallacchini@unicatt.it.



The authors introduce an overview of Internet of Things (IoT) and the concept of Ethical Design which is used to strengthen user interaction with IoT environments. The authors also present the contemporary challenges when dealing with IoT and suggest an implementation of Ethical Design framework called SecKit which can address these current challenges. Moreover, the article analyzes the benefits and limitations of the proposed Ethical Design model and the future development of this model.


The introduction of the article is too long and it is hard to summarize all the mentioned points. It should be split into smaller subtopics. One subtopic could be an introduction to IoT. One subtopic for declaring several aspects of IoT like privacy protection, Digital Divide, controlling flow of data and one subtopic discussing the need of Ethical Design to IoT. Each subtopic will have the title, for example: “Introduction to IoT”, “IoT key aspects”, and “Ethical Design for IoT”.


There is one redundant paragraph “The concept of Ethical Design could be implemented using different technologies. In  ‘‘Policy-Based Approach for Ethical Design” section, we describe a potential implementation of the Ethical Design concept using a policy-based framework” – (Baldini et al. – p.9). This paragraph is stated at the end of Ethical Design and Human Agency section and it is redundant because the author already mentioned the content of this section (“Section ‘‘Policy-Based Approach for Ethical Design” describes the proposed technical implementation of the ‘‘Ethical   Design’’ through a policy-based framework ”) in the introduction part so there is no need to state it again.


The authors defined the term Internet of Things (IoT) as: “The Internet of Things allows people and things to be connected Anytime, Anyplace, with Anything and Anyone, ideally using Any path/network and Any service” and “a world  where physical objects are seamlessly integrated into  the  information  network,  and  where  the  physical  objects  can  become  active participants in business processes” – (Baldini et al. – p.2). For “Ethical design” term, the author defined as “we  use  the  term  ‘ethical  design’  from  an engineering point of view to highlight that the IoT engineers promote a design of the IoT, which is respectful of the rights of the citizens instead of being only driven by economic considerations” – (Baldini et al. – p.2).  However, the author did not provide definition for “big data” even though it was mentioned in the article. By this way, the authors assume that the audience have some basic knowledge about big data and its related fields.


The “Main Concepts” section does not describe the concepts in SecKit clearly. Specifically, the authors describe “enforcement” and “configuration” like: “For  example,  a  profile  can  be specified  to  restrict  the  amount  of  user  information  accessible  to  the  IoT  devices (enforcement)     when    the  user   is in  a  public   space   that  is  considered  to  be a potentially unsafe situation (configuration)” – (Baldini et al. – p.12). The author should spend one or two sentences to explain the definition of concepts “enforcement” and “configuration” more clearly.
The article has good structure consisting of three main parts: the problem formulation (abstract, introduction), the solution to the problem (Policy-Based approach for Ethical Design)  as well as the evaluation of the solution (Analysis  and comparison with other frameworks). This structure helps the audience to easily follow the article’s content.