The European Commission (EC) has launched a public consultation on the "internet of things" with a view to developing a regulatory framework.
The consultation follows a number of media stories about inappropriate access to user data by mobile applications.
"The information concerned includes users' behavioural patterns, location and preferences. The Commission wants to ensure that the rights of individuals are respected," said the EC in a statement.
Today, the average person has just two devices connected to the internet – a PC and a smartphone, for example. However, by 2020, that number is expected to have grown exponentially. The internet of things foresees devices automatically communicating data between themselves and adjusting themselves accordingly. A typical example cited is the internet-connected refrigerator that can automatically re-order goods when they have been used up.
"An internet of things with intelligence embedded into everyday objects is the next big thing. I want to promote an internet of things that serves our economic and societal goals, while preserving security, privacy and the respect of ethical values," said Neelie Kroes, European Commission Vice-President for the Digital Agenda.
The EC is seeking to establish ground rules to prevent monopolies from developing and vendor lock-in of users. It foresees the requirement for an ethical and legal framework embedded in the technology to ensure control and security.
"Through the consultation, the Commission is seeking views on privacy, safety and security, security of critical internet-of-things supported infrastructure, ethics, interoperability, governance and standards," the EC said in a statement.
The results of the consultation will be fed into the EC's recommendations on the internet of things, which will be released in the summer of 2013.