Internet of Things and Circular Economy

May 2015 - May 2017
70.000 USD (1st year); 50.000 (2nd year)
Funding organization: 

eBay Inc.

Person(s) in charge: 
Executive summary: 

The Nexa Center is performing a research on ownership and consumer/citizen empowerment in an Internet of Things (IoT) world. The expected outcome of the research is the realization of a conceptual framework facilitating the further implementation of a Business-to-Consumer commerce able to empower the end-user of IoT solutions.


The “Internet of Things” (IoT) – term coined in 1999 by the British technology pioneer Kevin Ashton – refers to an infrastructure composed by billions of physical goods – equipped with smart modules and integrated into the Internet – which collect data, communicate with people and with other things, and enable remote and/or autonomous command and control of environments. This integration of the physical dimension with the digital one is destined to impact significantly on the everyday life of individuals.

In the first year of the research, we investigated the customers' ability to use and transfer the IoT-embedded items purchased.

In the second year, the research is focused on the interface between the IoT and circular economy, which runs on two tracks: from one perspective envisaged risks and challenges of IoT, complemented on the parallel path by visions of IoT as potential enabler of the circular economy.

We are pursuing such research program by involving a wide pool of experts from both STEM and SSH areas, who are analysing the issues in connection with three major technological determinants: big data, the cloud, and platforms.

The “visions” concern benefits for consumers, business and society at large, while the risks span different disciplines: for instance we deal with consumer protection issues, we investigate environmental threats, adverse consequences for employment and foresee economical problems like market dominance and effects of price discriminations.


Based on the analysis of the European Union and Member State laws applicable to the matter, and of a set of exemplary real cases, this research project aims to answer to three main questions:

1. How are control and ownership of consumers goods altered by the IoT advent?
2. To what extent is this alteration compatible with the European legislation in force?
3. More generally, what impact does this change of paradigm have on society?
4. Can IoT be a significant enabler of the circular economy ? What are the embedded risks ?


Last Update: 2016-03-15

The main results from the first year research were:

As far as the second research track is concerned, on 21 Sept. 2016 we hosted an internal workshop whose discussion laid the foundations of a
public event which was a conference titled Internet of Things: Hell or Paradise?", held in Turin on Dec 2, 2016 (a short, narrative, executive summary is available at .

The December 2016 Conference is followed by a round table organized in Brussels in collaboration with the Department of Jurisprudence of Turin University and in cooperation with IEEE. The title of the meeting is “IoT and the Circular economy: This Side of Paradise”, counterbalancing the title of the first part of our public discussion.
As the envisaged benefits concern consumers, business and society at large, the meeting covers different areas: consumer protection, accessibility of valuable data and implications for environment, as well as the obverse downside, including adverse consequences for employment, market dominance and effects of price discriminations. Illustrative examples of the research questions that will drive the discussion are: in which way can re-use of devices and assets be enabled by avoiding lock-ins, supporting data portability and combating silos? How does this interface with environmental concerns? The ultimate goal of the workshop is to elicit concrete recommendations for policy action and suggestions for further research.

Image "Internet of Things.jpg" from Wikimedia Commons - license CC-BY 2.0 Generic