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Building Trust 12 July 2019

The Internet of Things: Connecting the Dots to Become a Smart Consumer

By Steve OlshanskyFormer Director, Trust, Technology, Policy and Strategy

According to a recent survey conducted by Consumers International and the Internet Society, 63% of consumers think the way Internet-connected devices collect data is “creepy.” The Trust Opportunity: Exploring Consumer Attitudes to the Internet of Things, which polled people in the US, Canada, Japan, Australia, France, and the UK, also found that 73% of consumers think people using connected devices should worry about eavesdropping. And yet, new connected devices are being introduced practically every day, and sales show no sign of slowing down.

The word “smart” is used to describe almost all of these devices. But is that right?

The marketing around the Internet of Things (IoT) has become almost non-stop. Smart-this will make your life better, happier, more efficient. If only you had smart-that, you would reap the benefits of the marvelous technological age in which we live. But this often leaves out key information consumers need to make real smart choices.

It’s really about connectivity. For instance, that smart oven is a computer that happens to get hot in the middle. These IoT devices are able to perform smart functions because they are connected to the Internet. And while the marketing focuses on features and functionality, it often glosses over privacy and security implications.

Just like any computing device, privacy and security are major concerns – and they’re never solved. They’re ongoing processes that involve continuous updates to fix bugs and security vulnerabilities.

As these devices are proliferating, they’re collecting data from and about us. They may collect a great deal of data, in many cases far beyond what users would expect based on their functions. This is not an accident. This data can help formulate a very comprehensive picture of our lives – our habits, preferences, health issues, location and travel patterns, and much more. This aggregate picture can be used for purposes we often don’t know about, much less approve of. This data collection can extend past the owners of these devices – to anyone who enters a home or business where they’re in use. Is that smart home assistant listening to and recording everything we say, in the guise of listening for the “trigger word”?

Which is why it’d be more accurate to describe these products as connected.

Given the risks, we have to be careful consumers. This means doing our homework and researching products and services – even asking questions of our friends when we enter their homes.

In reality, these are connected devices and should be treated that way. Smart? Maybe not. But we can be!

Ready to get IoT smart? Read Top Tips for Consumers: Internet of Things Security and Privacy.

Disclaimer: Viewpoints expressed in this post are those of the author and may or may not reflect official Internet Society positions.

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