Emerging Tech in 2020: As IoT Grows, So Do Security Concerns

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Article Takeaways:

  • The upside of connected devices is enormous, but the security risks evolve all the time.
  • How some companies are protecting customer data through these devices
  • We’re seeing an influx of products into the market where little thought is going into security.

Back in 1999, in the thick of the concern for Y2K, a sci-fi Disney movie called Smart House was released. I remember watching it and thinking that the computer my entire family of five shared was incredible and scary at the exact same time. The movie focuses on a kid who enters a competition to win a “Smart House” that can help take care of all their family needs via a computer. When he wins and his family moves into the Smart House, the computer goes from a help to a hellish nightmare after it begins to learn and override the human controls, locking the family inside.

While in 1999 this may have sounded like a futuristic idea that played off of the fear of Y2K, our homes 20 years later have eerie similarities that people years ago would have been skeptical about. Yet here we are having just survived the 2019 holiday rush, happily gifting our loved ones new gadgets that intersect with every aspect of our lives.
A faucet that listens to your measurement requests, a car that knows the road better than you do or a doorbell that connects directly to your phone has all encouraged customers to buy through their holiday commercials. These companies who used to exist in households as inanimate objects are now connected to the web, in what is called “The Internet of Things (IoT).” With this new form of integration into almost every facet of consumers’ lives, it’s important, now more than ever, that we understand the impact of IoT, and why consumers’ security and data must be at the forefront of all the IoT ventures.

Connectivity for All

Connectivity is nothing new to this decade. In fact, Kevin Ashton came up with the term “The Internet of Things” back in 1999 alongside the Smart House release. But in 1999, this was simply a fantasy – A futuristic idea that would not come to fruition anytime soon.

IoT did not become popular until a few years ago when the use of connected devices by the general population started to see substantial growth. Now, Cisco estimates, there will be over 50 Billion IoT connected devices by 2020. This influx will create a massive new field for marketers to connect with consumers, at a rate of hundreds of billions of dollars, with the potential to reach trillions in the next five years.

While IoT certainly poses key benefits to the customer journey, for both the consumer and the marketer, there are plenty of challenges to face. The biggest: How do we make this new “connected world” live up to its intention ‘to improve quality of life, efficiency, create value and reduce cost.’? After all, an increase in connectivity across the globe has led to an increase in cyber attacks. With more devices circulating, the threat of consumer data being abused and misused has become more probable than ever due to weak spots in new tech that allow for penetration.

Hey Google and Alexa

So how do companies, who are new to this space, like Onvi Prophix — who use its app to show photos and live video of the inside of the user’s mouth while they are brushing their teeth — protect their consumer’s data, but also provide value from an integration that requires personal information?

Let’s learn from the giants who normalized IoT in households: Google Home and Amazon Alexa. In 2018, U.S. smart speaker owners grew 40 percent over 2018 to now reach 66.4 million — or 26.2 percent of the U.S. adult population.

Like many new brands, Google and Amazon were able to identify a gap in the market, to solve a problem that no one knew existed or was possible to solve. Home assistants brought about a sense of familiarity for users, similar to a conversation between two people. These devices were able to identify patterns in users’ daily lives and create personalized suggestions based on interactions. Simply, Google Home and Amazon Alexa work because they were built with the users’ needs in mind, backed by companies who have the capital and knowhow to safely protect user data.

Data, Cyberattacks, and the Government

Unlike Google and Amazon, we are seeing an influx of new industries dipping their toes in IoT, who do not have the intuition to understand the vulnerabilities into their connected products. When the automotive industry introduced connected cars, which can drive and park themselves, most manufacturers did not stop to consider the security factor of this connectivity, which caused concern for people’s physical safety.

Or what about home security? While the industry has been around for a while, the move to IoT has been spiking in the past few years. Ring, a home security and smart home company, has come under fire for recent hacks in four states. A scary development for a product that is intended to provide protection for its homeowners.

The security scares and concerns around consumer privacy and data had lobbyists approach the US Government and highlight the concerns around cyber threats. The Internet of Things Cybersecurity Improvement Act of 2019 was introduced as a way to establish minimum security standards for these IoT devices, according to Senator Mark Warner (D-VA) who called IoT consumer goods “the weak link” in privacy and security standards.

In a time where consumer privacy is at its utmost importance, staying safe should be at the forefront of any marketer’s mind.

The Future of IoT

None of this is to say that IoT is totally bad, or scary. Instead, I see it as a way for marketers and brands to better understand consumers and their interests. It’s a way to build strong customer relationships through targeted data.

According to Carrie MacGillivray, vice president, Internet of Things and Mobility at IDC, “For consumers, access to data is changing how they are informed about the status of households, vehicles, and family members as well as their own health and fitness. The next chapter of IoT is just beginning as we see a shift from digitally enabling the physical to automating and augmenting the human experience with a connected world.”

So for all of those who gave or received something connected this holiday season, remember to look into the security measures these devices have in place and if the connected device is really providing substantial value through the data you are providing. Companies who will struggle to prove this value or secure user data will eventually lose out on an opportunity that surrounds this market. But companies who do this right, have a bright future ahead.

Looking back, “Smart House” may have driven my interests in IoT more than I thought, leading to a career in adtech and an interest in who/what is connected to my information. I’ll learn from the lessons of that movie as I look forward to the next wave of connectivity that is private, safe and secure for all.


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