Data Privacy

The Internet of Things’ ‘dirty little secret’ and your personal data

The Internet of Things (IoT) has always been billed as building a more connected world – but what if it’s just a massive personal data harvesting and monetising exercise?

That’s the gist of a slew of articles recently, following Google’s Nest’s decision to shutter the Resolv smart home hub company it bought in 2014, abruptly cutting off customers and their apps.

At one level, of course, this simply undermines one of the key IoT elements that has been overlooked in the rush to have a house that responds to your needs without even asking – that without individual data ownership, it can all be taken away in an instant. Not so convenient and connected then, is it?

But, that (important) point aside, all these devices work on data. Data about you, data about your home, data about what you do in your home.Huge, huge amounts of data.

Which means, as this Medium post points out: “The opportunities are delicious for bloated internet companies: now a software company could know how warm your home is, what times of day are noisy, whether you have a pet, when you turn on your lights or if you listen to music while having sex.

“Smart devices are sold as a way to improve your life — and in many ways, they do to an extent — but it also means those gadgets are incredible troves of data that could eventually turn into Software-as-a-Service money makers.”

This point is also made in this CIO article interview on Nest’s woes, which states: “The primary issue facing the industry today is not technology, it’s the business models that companies such as Nest use in attempts to claim complete control over their users’ data… Consumers don’t want just one connected smart device and consumers are never going to buy all of their smart devices from the same supplier…The problem is that everybody wants to own the consumer, they want to own the relationship and they want all the data.”

This goes hand-in-hand with another  important point: “The problem with the Internet of Things is that the hardware is only one aspect. The makers need to keep servers running to support them, keep APIs up to date, keep security up to date and, well, pay employees.”

Over time, this all adds up – and it eventually adds up to more than you paid for the device, particularly as many of the first connected devices like thermostats and fridges are long-lasting by design, and so will be in your house for years or even decades.

So you then become a loss-making client – and an obvious way to recoup that loss will be to sell on the data that is being created day in, day out, by you just living in your home, then fed back to the company you bought from.

There’s the option to charge a monthly fee, too, of course or cut you off – but based on current user behaviour around social media platforms, for example, giving up user data is often seen as an acceptable compromise for a good, free service.

And that’s the frightening thing. We should prioritise our data, the information that makes up the big picture and the detail of all our lives, above so much else, but the IoT is largely founded on companies banking we won’t.

That’s why it has a place in this world, but the key tech revolution needs to be to an Internet of Me – the re-centering of data around the individual, for them to do what they want with it and not for companies to sell on, and on, and on as a commodity.

We’re doing all we can to make that happen – spread the word and join us!


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