In February 2017, Gartner estimated that the number of connected devices making up the Internet of Things (IoT) would surpass the world population by the end of the year.
That translates into an incredible amount of data that’s collected from these devices, interpreted, and served back to the users in a way they can understand it.
While not all of those devices are smart home devices, the fact that the data could be used by companies other than the product vendors should raise a few questions. Could that lead to more rapid technological breakthroughs or would it simply present a large-scale breach of privacy?
Here, we discuss the main things you should know about smart home data collection.
What types of data are collected?
The answer to this question really depends on the number and variety of smart home devices that you own. A fully equipped smart home with intelligent devices in the kitchen, bedroom, bathroom, garage and garden has the potential to know everything about you. The time you get back from work is stored by your garage door sensors, while your smart fridge knows your favorite foods better than your friends do.
From thermostat and lighting preferences, to smoke alarm and air filter replacements, to lawn-watering intervals and even individual family members’ daily schedules — your smart devices have the potential to keep track of virtually all of your home-based habits, maintenance, and schedules. On the other hand, the data collected isn’t necessarily personally identifiable unless you’re using devices specifically designed for that purpose, like smart medical instruments.
We tend to believe that each device sends data only to its vendor, but what if smart products were able to interact with one another? That would be particularly remarkable if the devices were made by different manufacturers that used a singular protocol. While some complain that smart home devices know too much about our daily lives, the benefits are equally immense.
The advantages of smart home data collection
One thing that we should keep in mind is that the functionality of most IoT devices improves the more they are used. They rely on a wide range of sensors to collect data about us in order to better serve us. In broad terms, smart home devices can help us take better care of ourselves. We can use them to save time and become more productive as well as maximize our home security and increase energy efficiency.
Because they are connected to the internet by definition, smart home devices have an enormous convenience factor. You’re free to manage all of your gadgets from the one device that you carry on you at all times: your smartphone. And the benefits of smart home data collection do not stop there. As the functionality of these devices continues to expand, so will the number of advantages.
Smart home devices are already capable of customizing various user experiences for you, and could even help save you money. From smart irrigation systems that tell you when to water your lawn so you don’t over- or under-water it, to intelligent light bulbs that can save on utilities and provide an added layer of security, there are myriad opportunities for smart home devices to help you streamline, simplify, and save.
What will IoT vendors do with smart home data?
For most intelligent home devices and products, the revenue model is transactional. In short, this means that the vendor stops making money once the device enters into the customer’s possession. But data – a veritable gold mine – offers smart home device companies a recurring revenue model.
Many companies will either offer to interpret the collected data for a monthly subscription, or they can sell it to third parties. Considering that each new device interaction generates new data, both of these options are viable as long as the consumer uses them.
Data – a veritable gold mine – offers smart home device companies a recurring revenue model.
In a July 2017 interview with Reuters, iRobot CEO Colin Angle admitted that his company was considering sharing the floor plans mapped by the Roomba cleaning robot with the world’s biggest tech companies. Angle pointed out that it would be easier for Amazon, Apple, and Google to provide their products and services once they knew the configuration of the customers’ homes. One very important aspect is that the floor plans wouldn’t be sold but shared for free — and only after customer consent.
Transparency between vendors and consumers will go a long way, even for companies willing to sell smart home data, not just share it for free. Alerting the users of this and enabling them to opt in or out will help build trust, even if the data that is up for sale is not personally identifiable.
How does this affect you?
If you’re seeing the sale of smart home data as a breach of privacy, you’re not alone. The IoT Institute predicted that privacy concerns would grow in 2018, but they also noted that these concerns wouldn’t slow adoption. Ultimately, the purpose of smart home devices is to collect data about you in order to be truly “smart.” As a consumer, it’s important to be aware of this, and also aware of how that data might be used, and your options for opting in our out of data sharing plans.
Would the benefits of your smart home devices outweigh the negatives if the vendor decided to share the data with third parties? That’s something we’ll each have to assess on our own, and on a case-by-case basis.