Networks of sensors often only transmit information to their owner. 21 Inc. is a company that imagines a common cloud-based platform that connects privately owned sensors to a common market where the collected data is sold for general consumption, with payment taking place through Bitcoin. 21 Inc. recently debuted a prototype sensor, called Sensor21, which highlights how sensors could be connected to their common marketplace. The prototype is essentially a miniaturized weather sensor that is capable of measuring air pressure, altitude, and temperature. The data is put on the platform via Internet of Things technology and is available for “sale” for a certain amount of Bitcoin, with the proceeds going to the person who owns the sensor. This would also, hypothetically, offer a greater incentive for environmental monitoring. If sensors were fitted with Internet of Things technology that is capable of connecting to 21’s platform, a host of once-privately owned data is made available for sale and subsequent consumption. 21 Inc. sees their products as useful for monitoring extreme weather events, like rainstorms or forest fires. While Sensor21 could prove to be a useful innovation for sharing data, there are lingering technical and ethical questions. 21 Inc. is not very forthcoming around how exactly their technology would mesh with existing sensors in the field that do not have their Internet of Things technology. Also, if sensors are collecting vital information for weather monitoring and potentially emergency responses, is it ethical to put what should be free and public information for sale? These lingering questions— particularly the ethical quandaries— that apply to a swath of technologies that seek to further consolidate and sell data, and should be an aspect of product development and subsequent critique. 

Pate, Taylor, Jeremy Kun, and Balaji Srinvasan. “Earn Bitcount by Collecting Environmental Data.


Blockchain, Citizen Science, Data, Ecological Monitoring, Internet of Things, Monitoring