Internet of Behaviours

From New Media Business Blog

Jump to: navigation, search



Transformation of data from IoT to IoB

Internet of behaviours (IoB) is an extension of IoT where data collected through numerous technological devices are analyzed through a behavioural psychological lens, providing insight into things like consumer behaviour, their interests, and preferences. The main goal of IoB is to improve efficiency and quality of products and services offered [1].

By 2023, it is expected that 40% of the global population will be tracked digitally using IoB [2].

IoB combines and processes data from many sources including[3]:

  • Commercial customer data
  • Citizen data collected by the public-sector and government
  • Social media
  • Location data
  • Public domain deployments of facial recognition

It comprises of three main components which will be discussed in the later sections: behavioural science, technology, and data analytics [4].

Behavioural Science

An important component of IOB is behavioural science, which is the study of human actions where you would observe and interpret behaviours then modify them afterwards[5]. Applications of behavioural science today include being used to understand patterns consumers make when purchasing goods or services, and also how to motivate and influence employee behaviour.

In a technology context, four main areas of behavioural science are covered:

  • Decisions: Your choice to pursue a certain belief or course of action
  • Emotions: The state of feelings that can alter your behaviour
  • Augmentations: How you are influenced into thinking a different way than you normally would if there are other factors present that changes what your choice would typically be
  • Championships: Your support or defense for something

How IoT and IoB are related?

A British visionary named Kevin Ashton coined the term IoT in 1999 to describe a network of interrelated computing devices that collect and share data without human input [6]. The data is collected through embedded technologies such as sensors or processors[7]. As companies learn more about us through IoT, they can subsequently alter our behaviours (IoB) [8].

Internet of Things (IoT)

The term IoT is mainly used for devices that wouldn't usually be expected to have an internet connection. For instance, conventionally, door locks were not expected to be connected to the internet; however, the wifi-enabled smart locks do, which is why they are considered an IoT device. IoT also includes any stand-alone devices connected to the internet that can be monitored or controlled remotely, like smart home technologies that include security cameras, smart thermostats, or kitchen appliances.

What sets an IoT apart from a regular device (e.g., a normal door lock) is the sensor, microprocessor, and connection to the internet[9]. Sensor is a device that detects changes in its environment and sends that information to the processor. The processor takes the signal sent by the sensor as an input and uses arithmetic logic to perform a function.

Type of Sensors

Sensors present in IoT devices are used to collect data about users that is later analyzed from behavioral perspective. There are numerous kinds of sensors that are available nowadays. However, below is the condensed list of commonly found sensors in multiple IoT devices like smartwatches, smart thermostats, smartphones, etc. Since a smartphone is the most widely owned IoT device, it is used to illustrate the working of some of the sensors listed below.


This sensor adjusts the screen when a smartphone is tilted[10]. Basically, it helps to determine whether the phone is in portrait or landscape orientation. In smartwatches, it is also used as a pedometer to count how many steps a person has taken based on which it counts how many calories they have burnt and the distance covered[11].

Other applications include:

  • In vehicles, aircraft, and missiles to measure vibration, shock, and electrical capacitance[12].
  • In the industrial machinery subjected to constant high stress like pumps, compressors, and turbines to detect faults[13].
  • In biological sciences to study the behavioral patterns of animals, which is useful in the preservation of endangered species[14].
  • In remote monitoring of volcanic activity[15]

Even though accelerometers are generally considered non-intrusive, some studies have found that "third-party apps [on smartphones] can access accelerometer data without requiring security permission"[16]. "Accelerometer data alone may be sufficient to obtain information about a device holder's location, activities, health condition, body features, gender, age, personality traits, and emotional state"[17].

Ambient Light Sensor

Light sensor in iPhone5

When a smartphone is set to auto-brightness mode, this sensor detects the light or brightness in the external environment to automatically adjust the brightness of the display[18].

Other applications include:

  • In LCD and LED displays to adjust the brightness according to external light[19].
  • In agricultural sprinklers to automatically water crops when the sun is not at its brightest[20].
  • In public buildings and washrooms to turn on the lights only when occupied[21].

Light sensors can detect even the slightest changes in the external environment of the device, which gives rise to various privacy concerns. According to a researcher at University College London, data from these sensors can be used to determine the type of lighting a person prefers, the size of their home, a map of their home arrangement, the time of the day they work, and how frequently they move around the house or leave altogether[22]. Such information can be used to build a person's profile, assigning them "to a particular category, such as this user has a large house, he is wealthy. Why not target web content based on this information?”[23]

Biometric Sensor

Iris Recognition

Biometric sensors such as Fingerprints and Face Detection sensors are commonly found in smartphones.

Iris Recognition is another type of biometric sensor that is used by authorities in identifying individuals based on unique patterns in their iris (the colored ring-shaped tissue in the eye that contains the pupil). This technology is employed by CBSA (Canada Border Services Agency) in NEXUS lanes at some locations[24]. It is also used in law enforcement to compare iris images of suspects with an existing database of images to confirm their identity. Iris scans are quicker and more reliable than fingerprints because it is easier for an individual to obscure or alter their fingers than it is to alter their eyes[25]. Furthermore, it is possible to scan the iris from a distance or even when the subject is moving, which raises civil liberties and privacy concerns[26].

Barcode and QR Sensors

QR code scanning

Almost all smartphones have sensors that can read barcodes and QR codes on product packaging either through an in-built camera or a third-party app. They also have a common application in devices used by the retail and manufacturing sector due to the nature of their business.

In 2015, Heinz (the ketchup company) ran a promotional campaign making use of a QR code to direct users to a site where they could design their own label for a ketchup bottle[27]. Instead, the QR code was directing users to an inappropriate site[28]. It turned out Heinz did not renew its registration for the domain name, and as its domain name became available, some other party started using it[29].

QR codes are also widely used in phishing attacks. They are an ideal attack method for cybercriminals because the human eye cannot differentiate a malicious QR code from a legitimate one.


Gyroscope in gaming remote

A gyroscope is another motion control sensor that can precisely detect the orientation, direction or rotation of the phone[30]. Many popular gaming apps such as Asphalt 5, Real Racing, and PUBG use the motion detection features of the gyroscope[31].

It can also be found in the rotor of a helicopter, cruise ships, gaming consoles (like PlayStation controller or Wii remote), and virtual reality sets such as Oculus Rift which has now been discontinued by Facebook[32][33][34][35].

Contrary to what is popularly believed, Gyroscopes are used instead of microphones on our devices to potentially eavesdrop on our conversations[36]. It works just well enough to pick up a fraction of the words spoken near a phone, gaming console, or other IoT device to determine the context of the conversation[37].


Premium smartphones such as Samsung’s Galaxy S21 series, Note 20 series or iPhone 12 have a Barometer[38]. This sensor measures air pressure which is useful in studying altitude change and weather conditions like storms[39]. The logic behind it is that decreasing atmospheric pressure predicts stormy weather[40]. The reason that phone manufacturers include barometers in the devices is to improve the functioning of GPS which could be adversely affected by atmospheric pressure[41].

Like an ambient light sensor, Barometer can be very useful in combination with GPS to determine the device owner's locational data in terms of the altitude of the place they’re living and the prevailing atmospheric conditions there[42]. Also, since the readings subtly shift with increased altitude, it could give away which floor of a building they’re on if one is to track them[43].

GPS Sensor

Global Positioning System

Global positioning system sensors are very common in smartphones nowadays. The maps on smartphones make use of this sensor.

It is also widely used in industries like marine, aviation, mining, and defense[44]. One of the interesting applications of GPS is in timekeeping. Smartphones derive their time from GPS signals but the GPS time is not precisely correct[45]. To display the correct UTC time, our smartphones make a leap second adjustment to GPS time[46].

Google uses GPS sensors on smartphones to determine traffic congestion on different routes which users find concerning because it implies that their location is constantly tracked[47].

Hall and Proximity Sensors

These are two different sensors, but they function in a very similar manner. Hall Sensors in smartphones can detect the magnetic field of flip phone covers to sleep and wake the phone as the cover is flipped[48]. A proximity sensor detects the distance of the phone from the skin or any other object[49]. A proximity sensor disables the touchscreen when one receives a phone call or holds their phone near to their ear[50].

Other applications of hall sensor include[51]:

  • In automobiles to measure the level of fuel in the fuel tank or to determine whether the driver and passengers have put on the seat belt
  • In automatic flush, sinks, hand dryers, and elevators

Other applications of proximity sensor include:

  • In automobiles to alert the driver of any obstacles while parking[52]
  • In aircraft to alert pilots of nearby obstructions while taking off, flying, or landing[53]

As such, these sensors are weak on their own, and data collected through them may seem insignificant unless combined with data from other sensors to make relations[54]. However, if speculations are to be believed, proximity and hall sensors can sense other devices in their vicinity and interact with them to collect and transmit data. It means a machine is interacting with another machine without human input. It sounds dangerous, but more research is required in this field to fully understand its implications.


Magnetometer operates on earth’s magnetic field and detects the direction of the North Pole[55]. The compass in smartphones makes use of a Magnetometer.

Other applications include:

  • In the detection of archaeological sites, shipwrecks, other buried or submerged objects[56]
  • In finding the direction of drilling for oil and gas[57]
  • In defense forces to detect submarine activity to guard borders[58]
  • In the detection of iron ores like magnetite and hematite[59]

Just like Hall and Proximity sensor, it is speculated that a technically sophisticated magnetometer can also help two devices in proximity to pair up and extract information from each other like fingerprints or other biometric data. However, more research is required to verify the credibility of these theories.


Nowadays, smartphones also have a thermometer that monitors the temperature of the device and the battery[60]. This sensor instructs the processor to shut the device in case of extreme overheating to prevent damage.

Traditionally, thermometers are used for medical purposes like ear, forehead, and oral thermometers. In restaurants, thermometers are used to monitor food safety that is keeping food at optimal temperatures to stop potentially harmful bacteria from growing. Meteorological departments use it for measuring environmental temperature. It is also present in thermostats to regulate indoor temperatures.

In terms of privacy concerns, many smartphone users noticed that after they tracked their body temperature through an app, they started seeing ads for different ibuprofen brands.

Touch Screen

A touchscreen Sensor is used to input data into the phone. It can be found in all kinds of touch screen devices.

Covid-19 Implications

The onset of the Covid-19 pandemic may have accelerated the adoption of IOB technologies [61]. In this new environment, individuals are more accepting of being surveilled and tracked because the perceived public good trump's their private interests. The following example illustrates how citizens were willing to have their information tracked in order to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

Taiwan's Electronic Fence System

Airline worker providing information on Taiwan's quarantine system

This system was implemented at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic in early 2020 and was successful in limiting the spread of the disease in Taiwan. Travelers had to fill out an online health form and were required to quarantine for 2 weeks at a designated location. An individual’s cell phone location data was used to determine whether they were complying with their quarantine and action is taken if an individual breaks their quarantine [62].

The successful adoption of this system can be contributed to 3 factors[63]:

  • Taiwan has a relatively small population compared to other countries (24 million)
  • 99% of the Taiwanese population own a cellphone which made it possible to use cellular tracking to enforce quarantine
  • Citizens believed this system was necessary to combat the virus for the greater good of the country

Other Covid-19 Applications

Additional applications of IoB to aid in the Covid-19 pandemic include:

Contract Tracing Apps

These applications make a log of whom you’ve come into contact with and provide alerts to individuals who may have been exposed to Covid-19 [64].

Social distancing wearables in action

RFID Technologies in Hospitals

Hosptials across the world are using RFID technologies to help with hand hygiene and to monitor social distance compliance during the Covid-19 pandemic. Nurses are given a RFID enabled lanyard to wear around the building, and these lanyards would track staff members based on their proximity to specific locations such as sinks, soap dispensers, and doors. A report is generated based on the information collected and can be used to discipline or reward employees [65].

Previous studies have suggested that RFID technologies can help produce short- term improvements in hand hygiene, but it is unclear whether it can foster long-term changes in behaviour [66].


Wearable technology is given to employees and can either be worn on their wrists or belts. They consist of sensors that connect via Bluetooth or GPS to other devices which will create noise or vibrate to notify staff that there is a person within six feet of them [67].

IoB in Business

IoB is a key component that organizations need to embrace in becoming a smart, data driven business as it allows companies a 360 degree view of their customer’s mindsets.

The experience that companies bring to customers is just as important as the quality of the product or service provided. According to a study conducted by PWC, one bad experience by a brand is enough to drift away 32% of their customers[68]. The effects and uses of IoB in a business setting will be discussed in this section.

Business Benefits

1. Market products more effectively to consumers

  • IoB allows businesses to generate new insights into their customer’s buying habits across platforms, as well as how their customers interact between their devices and products/services. This can make it easier for them to predict and understand trends and patterns which will ultimately increase revenue. The technology stemming from the interconnectivity of IoT also allows businesses to send real-time, targeted advertisements to their customers through multiple devices and means [69].

2.Improves consumer experience

  • Understanding the consumer’s purchase journey will allow businesses to create a more seamless and personal experience that will entice consumers to continue engaging with a brand. Businesses will also be able to resolve customer issues quicker [70].

3.Helps with operational efficiency

  • IoB can be used to improve internal operations of businesses by correcting or improving the behaviour of employees through devices [71]. Data collected through IoB can also be used to replace traditional methods of data collection such as customer surveys which are time consuming, helping to improve business strategies and create new products and ideas [72].

Applications in Business

“IoB technology is going to collect the digital footprint of users and use that knowledge for the benefit of business and consumers.” [73]

Below are some examples of IoB in a business setting.

Vitality Health App

Marketing: Vitality Health

Vitality Health is a health insurance company that utilizes data and technology to track and reward healthy behaviour [74].

An initial health assessment is collected for each member, and the app will monitor whether the member is making progress towards their health goals through wearable technologies like the Apple Watch. Data collected from wearables are also combined with data from Vitality’s partners and network gyms. They have a rewards point system which rewards members for engaging in healthy behaviour, and includes items such as gift certificates, discounts on healthcare plans, and other perks from their partners.

RAND Europe, a research institute concluded that incentivizing physical activity does lead to a positive change and maintenance of good behaviour [75]. One of Vitality Health’s partners had a 92% increase in engaged participation levels from customers [76].

Operational: Amazon’s Delivery Drivers

Amazon has installed AI-powered cameras in their delivery vans, and will be used to track driver behaviour. This technology provides drivers with real-time feedback regarding their driving behaviour while also collecting the data that will be used to evaluate their drivers[77]. Amazon hopes that this technology will not only improve the behaviour of their drivers, but also keep the community safe.

Information tracked include[78]:

  • Vehicle location and movements: This includes things such as miles driven, speed, acceleration, bracking, and following distance from the car in front of it
  • Potential traffic violations: This includes things like speeding, failure to stop at stop signs, undone seatbelts
  • Risky driver behaviour: This includes distracted or drowsy driving

Business Implications

IoT and IoB “itself isn’t inherently problematic; a lot of people like having their devices synced and get benefits and convenience from this setup. Instead, the concern is how we gather, navigate, and use the data, particularly at scale.”[79]

With IoB, businesses gain access to a multitude of data and other analytics. But with great knowledge comes great responsibility, and they need to ensure not to overstep boundaries and exploit consumers.

It is difficult to predict whether IoB will be able to detect harmful behaviours in individuals such as untreated addictions and compulsions and prevent a further decline in their well being[80].


Lovepreet Kaur Annie Zhou Taylor Vaz Temirlan Kakimov
Beedie School of Business
Simon Fraser University
Burnaby, BC, Canada
Beedie School of Business
Simon Fraser University
Burnaby, BC, Canada
Beedie School of Business
Simon Fraser University
Burnaby, BC, Canada
Beedie School of Business
Simon Fraser University
Burnaby, BC, Canada


Personal tools