Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg isn’t satisfied with running the world’s largest social network: he wants his company’s software—enhanced by enormous stores of user data—to help power the so-called Internet of Things.
Speaking at a meeting of the Open Compute Project, Zuckerberg suggested that Facebook’s identity and social services “should automatically extend to the Internet of Things,” according to The New York Times.
In theory, the Internet of Things will bind together millions—perhaps even billions—of “smart devices” and sensors into enormous networks, which will stream data from all that hardware to analytics tools for further insights. Advocates of this future believe that data will make industries more efficient than ever before. In late 2013, research firm Gartner estimated that IT spending on so-called “smart” devices and associated hardware could eventually hit $4 trillion, and incorporate everything from smoke detectors and medical devices to automobiles and home appliances.
Cisco, Intel, and other tech giants stand to benefit enormously from sales of servers, hardware, and other infrastructure necessary to maintain these networks. Zuckerberg (if he’s serious about his company playing a major role) clearly envisions Facebook acting as the software “glue” that binds people and their devices to those networks. That’s an ambitious vision, and one that could potentially earn the social network billions of dollars in revenue over the long term—picture targeted ads delivered to an embedded screen on your fridge, or Facebook selling the aggregated data on millions of drivers. (Privacy advocates, start your screaming.)
Through his Internet.org organization, Zuckerberg is also trying to bring Internet access to more people around the world. Partners in the effort include Nokia, Opera, Qualcomm, and Samsung, all working with Facebook to develop new business models and services that will make the Web much more affordable. During his talk, Zuckerberg alluded to making wireless systems more efficient, and perhaps making devices cheaper: “Having a smartphone doesn’t mean you’re connected.”
Cynics have accused Internet.org of being a business stratagem in disguise; more people accessing the Web, after all, means a larger customer base for ads and services. But as with the Internet of Things, it remains to be seen whether such a vision can actually come to life, given the enormous logistical (and ethical) issues inherent in linking millions of people together.