IoT and home automation, is your privacy worth so little?

01.02.2023 2,824 2

The popularity of IoT (Internet of things) is no more a forecast, but a reality. Despite headwinds like the still ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the chip shortage, and the supply chain disruptions the world is facing, IoT growth keeps on going. Its fast pace has been stalled due to these situations, but they can be counted by billions already, and these numbers will multiply exponentially in the near future.

Once, smartphones changed the concept and use of mobile phones. Furthermore, they impacted and modified regular and consumer human habits worldwide. Now, IoT is predicted to be responsible for the next technological revolution that will transform the end-users’ homes.

It sounds interesting, right? Well, yes, but talking about technology and big changes, even the biggest technology enthusiasts know that the coin has two sides. No matter whether one is very shiny, you should explore the other to take conscious decisions. And that is exactly what we will do!

What is IoT (Internet of things)?

IoT or the Internet of Things refers to the network of diverse physical objects (things) equipped with software, sensors, on/off switches, and any other technology that enables their connection to the Internet, other systems and devices, and the data exchanged between them.

The variety of IoT available is wide – just as the technology they involve is (artificial intelligence, automation, hybrid clouds, etc.). Some collect data about the way people use them and about the environment in which they are used. In theory, this data is only used to enhance the operation of the devices.

Smartphones, doors, fitness trackers, medical sensors, watches, bicycles, security systems, alarms, and pretty much every home appliance now has a “smart” version including fridges, stoves, washing machines, freezers, microwave ovens, etc. Meaning they have built-in sensors.

Honestly, the word “smart” has become a tag to sell IoTs. Its use, in many cases, is exaggerated so the word is losing value. We can’t call a toaster that you can turn on from an app on your mobile smart. The same goes for a connected garage door that opens when your car is around. There is no intelligence there, only a sensor detecting a trigger for the device to work. Think about those that don’t do any complicated tasks, like controllers included in your mobile or watch to adjust the volume of your TV, computer, or speaker.

How do IoT devices work?

IoT devices are connected to IoT platforms. These platforms can either be on-premises software suites or cloud services. IoT platforms monitor and receive data from the IoT devices, accurately separate the useful from useless information, identify patterns, use analytics, warn about possible issues before they happen, make recommendations, and share this with the applications in charge of addressing specific needs.

Shortly said, here is where the “smartness” of such devices comes from.

At this point, it is worth saying that the concept of IoT has been around for a very long time already. What made it possible was the development of other technologies like the cloud, machine learning, analytics, AI, etc. You can’t understand IoT’s existence, accuracy, and growth without them.
• Think about sensor technology. Access to low-power and low-cost sensors was a dream decades ago. Today, reliable and affordable sensors are accessible to many IoT manufacturers.
• The current existence of more useful network protocols for the Internet has improved connectivity. Efficient connection and data transfer from sensors to the cloud, and between the “things” now is absolutely real.
• Quality and flexible cloud computing platforms’ growth. Without this infrastructure, IoT platforms could still be hard to build, manage, and afford.
• Conversational AI has given IoT a natural way to interact with humans and coexist in private environments like their homes. Cortana, Siri, and Alexa are clear examples.
• Nowadays, advances in analytics and machine learning allow a fast and efficient collection and analysis of data. The valuable insights both provide a translation into constant and bigger IoT improvements.
• And well, without edge computing, how could we have self-driving cars?

What does home automation mean?

Home automation means the automatic control of the electronic objects people have at home. The ambition of home automation is that devices can communicate with each other so they can trigger actions between themselves instead of you controlling each of their actions manually through an application installed on your phone, or through a voice assistant.

Home automation has different objectives, but the clearest is to make humans’ life more comfortable while leaving the automation in charge of routine or time-consuming tasks. It can be a tool to save some resources and money, but it doesn’t do it by itself because it is linked to people’s habits.

For example, if in the morning rush to get out of the house for work, you always forget to switch the boiler, the bathroom lights and your coffee machine off – you can easily program this to happen automatically at a certain time, ensuring that you’re not wasting energy and not throwing away money on an expensive electricity bill!

For sure by now, you can realize the proximity between IoT and home automation. They have aligned objectives but watch out! They are not the same thing!

IoT vs home automation

IoT points out the type of devices equipped with sensors able to connect to the Internet (using Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, ZigBee, or another protocol), and with other IoT devices. There are light bulbs you can program via an app to turn on and off at certain times, and fridges that keep you informed about the expiry dates of your groceries, etc. are IoT devices.

Home automation is the idea of automatically controlling electronic devices at home. So yes, only IoT devices offer the necessary features for home automation to be possible.

What are the benefits of IoT and home automation?

Comfort and time-saving

Communication between all the devices that you own will simplify your life and save you time. You will be able to easily control every aspect of it from multiple points – your phone, computer, or connected speaker. Other devices will act on triggers.

Imagine this, you get up in the morning and turn your alarm off. The alarm signals the boiler to start heating, messages the coffee machine to begin brewing, tells you the weather forecast and reminds you when your first video call of the day is.

Remote access and control

You can remotely access and control every IoT device you own and the daily admin tasks they run at home (home automation based on your habits and preferences) via your phone, computer, or connected speaker. Common omissions like closing a door, activating security alarms, or turning the iron, bulb, stove, boiler, or air conditioner off could be fixed from wherever you are, with minimum effort.

Efficiently smart

IoT could help to promote and execute a smarter consumption of resources like energy and water. This technology enabled at your home through home automation could make positive changes for your budget and the planet. But technology itself won’t do it. It must be connected to conscious and responsible human habits and decisions.

The same smart bulb will have very different results when used by a person who wants to avoid the waste of energy, compared to someone who doesn’t care about that and just bought it because it can blink at the rhythm of a song.

Safer home and neighbourhood

Let’s look at all the security equipment like cameras, alarms, door and window locks, motion detectors, video doorbells, etc, that’s on the market. Whilst we’ve focused on IoT devices helping to reduce energy consumption – IoT can also help you to avoid strangers at the door or see if someone’s skulking around down the side of your house.

Highly efficient targeted advertising

For businesses, having access to customer behavior information is gold. They could get very accurate customer profiles to offer their products.

Get insights to plan

Customer behavior information combined with analytics and stock monitoring could help businesses to know clients’ preferences and needs to guarantee products in stock, enhance others, and develop new ones.

What are the drawbacks of IoT and home automation?

Should you be worried about IoT? Yes, there are problems with the IoT you shouldn’t ignore.

Bugs and vulnerabilities

IoT devices are old in concept but recent in terms of existence. Many combinations are ongoing. Even though there’s an effort on IoT testing, there are still risks. IoT devices are still experiencing bugs, problems connecting to the Internet, lagging, and vulnerabilities that have to be discovered and fixed. Honestly, some manufacturers care less about security than others and that is risky. And the end-user can be seriously affected while these things get fixed.

Security issues

Plenty of IoT devices aren’t sophisticated at all. Simplicity is good, but not when security is at stake. The lack of security across IoT devices has made them easy to hack, and an effective and commonly used means to enable powerful cyberattacks, like DDoS attacks. Criminals have shown how easily they can infect and recruit these “things” to create huge botnets.

Without protection, IoT and home automation could mean leaving your home open and vulnerable to whoever feels like intruding. Your security could be severely compromised.

Privacy and data protection

Privacy and data protection have become big concerns for many users worldwide. Many lawsuits, trials, fines, and other penalties have been imposed on companies trading with users’ data. The use of the Internet is risky by itself, and in this context, IoT devices can become the perfect spies for criminals.

By allowing IoT devices in your home, you are providing eyes (cameras), ears (microphones), and sensors for strangers, and criminals as well. A “simple” vacuum cleaner robot can map your entire home! Multiply the risk by the number of IoT devices you have or could have at home. In theory, IoT should not transmit information to third parties, especially not without your permission; but in practice, it happens! Besides, hackers can easily intervene and get the data collected by the “things”.

November 2022 finished with a scandal that proves these risks. Eufy is a company owned by the Chinese-based Anker. It sells home security products including camera-equipped doorbells. It was proven by users that Eufy cameras sent data that is said to be only “stored locally,” even when cloud storage is disabled. This case got scary when streams of Eufy footage were found to be accessible through unencrypted streams. Simply using the popular VLC media player, with no decryption or authentication needed, there was open access to many identities!

With all your IoT connected at home, they could collect a huge amount of personal and sensitive information, daily, about you, your family, and your habits. Whoever could know details about your banking account, bank cards, next vacations, daily schedule, hours when there’s nobody at home, health, job, and dating status. Would you share pretty much your entire life with multiple strangers? Are comfort and convenience (and sometimes laziness if we’re honest!) worth these risks?

Costs

IoT devices are more expensive than their traditional versions that aren’t connected to the Internet. Purchasing one or a few IoT items is certainly more affordable now than it was a few years ago but having everything needed to enable your home to become fully automated won’t be cheap. Factors like quality, reliable manufacturers, and included security features make a big price difference. Honestly, many cheap “things” are just not reliable and secure enough yet.

Conclusion

The blend of IoT and home automation draws a very futuristic home. The comfort and convenience that technology already provides are great benefits, but privacy and security also matter a lot! The decision is up to you, to each of us. But at least next time you feel like buying a lamp that talks and can turn itself on and off, consider the security or risks it can also present. We can positively push the improvement of technology. If objects are getting “smart”, we consumers should be smarter and critical to demand better and safer products. If you impulsively treat yourself by blindly buying an IoT device because it’s shiny, think for a second, is your privacy worth so little?

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