Customers are Increasingly Worried About Privacy, but May Not be Changing Buying Habits


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Mainstream media outlets have been dedicating an increasing amount of time to privacy issues, though new data suggests that little has been done to assuage consumer concerns. While it’s important not to forget about the mobile apps and web-based services, a great deal of this attention has been rightly devoted to Internet of Things devices.

These devices often collect a large amount of information on their uses, but their complicated privacy policies make it difficult for users to fully understand how their information is being used. In many cases, consumers may be signing away their rights without fully realizing it.

According to WiredShopper, consumer data collected from these devices can prove to be a lucrative revenue stream for cash-strapped hardware manufacturers. It can also serve to further generate additional income for startups that are working to bring new types of sensors to market.

At a recent expert conference, Aaron Oosterbaan used the example of how K4Connect is building an integrated monitoring platform by leveraging the power of user-collected data. Unfortunately, many companies’ operations are not so benign.

Specifically, Internet of Things equipment is inspiring some very polarizing commentary.

IoT Devices Spark Inspiration & Concern

News agencies have focused on how engineers are able to leverage these devices to create new solutions for problems that, in many cases, consumers weren’t even aware of the fact that they suffered from. Some of these problems are related to much larger concerns, like environmental ones.

For instance, smart thermostats are theoretically capable of saving energy in buildings that already rely heavily on HVAC systems. While this might be important considering the increased focus on greenhouse gas emissions, it’s also cause for privacy concerns.

Consumer advocates published a study that found around 69 percent of netizens owned at least one IoT device. The same study found that 63 percent of those surveyed had problems with data collection policies published by the developers of these devices.

Technologists from the Internet Society found that 53 percent of respondents to a related marketing study stated that they didn’t trust their digital devices to protect their privacy. In spite of all these findings, however, it doesn’t seem like any measurable portion of the population is willing to give up their smart devices.

In the example of a networked thermostat, users might be pleased with the way it automatically heats or cools a building. However, the developer will often collect data on energy usage and building occupation. If a criminal were to get their hands on this information, then they would know precisely when to plan an intrusion.

Other devices like smart surveillance cameras and digital assistant speakers are potentially more concerning.

Privacy Woes from Frequently Used Home Automation Gadgets

Internet speakers often record a user’s voice for quality control reasons. Software developers need to ensure that their algorithms work properly, but they’re not always forthcoming when it comes to how they collect and manage this information.

It might be safe to say that a majority of people who own these devices use them several times throughout a day. When they’re not accessing them, they’re still connected to a public network. That allows them to connect an otherwise open microphone to a relatively public backbone.

Smart cameras work in a similar fashion. They’re constantly recording a video feed, which is transmitted over a computer network. While people might not consider these devices to be computers in their own right, they are and are therefore vulnerable to the same potential exploits that any other computer device would be.

Uncorrected Exploits Increase the Risk of Exposure

Crackers could potentially exploit any undiscovered vulnerability in these devices, which leads to an entirely different set of privacy concerns than those related to the original manufacturer. Someone who gains control of a camera or speaker would have the ability to relay all the details of what’s going on in a building to a remote location.

Theoretically, they’d be able to select whatever location they preferred.

Considering that many developers don’t release regular security updates, this problem is becoming more concerting for small business owners who need to protect their investments.

Managers who Take Privacy Problems into Their Own Hands

Some business owners and managers have started to reduce their reliance on some gadgets. Considering that an additional study found that some 30 percent of users aren’t even satisfied with their devices, this may not be as difficult as it sounds.

Others are being more cautious about configuration options. Most devices allow you to disable at least some data collection routines, but few private users ever take the time to go through every setting. Dedicating a little extra time to the installation process can drastically reduce the creepiness factor for many business-minded consumers.

A few are shoring up their own operations to protect customer privacy so they don’t become the target of additional criticism. By 2025, around 95 percent of customer interactions will involve artificially intelligent agents in some way. Business owners will want to be sure that their own AI systems aren’t collecting too much consumer data.

Regardless of how they proceed, however, technologists urge managers to consider whether they truly need each device they’re invested in. There’s a good chance that many of these gadgets are actually superfluous

Philip Piletic
I have several years of experience in marketing and startups, and regularly contribute to a number of online platforms related to technology, marketing and small business. I closely follow how Big Data, Internet of Things, Cloud and other rising technologies grew to shape our everyday lives. Currently working as managing editor for a UK tech site.


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