Smart Homes, Cybersecurity and Personal Data: What Consumers Care About

A new survey reveals consumers' attitudes regarding risks and rewards of smart-home technologies; industry insiders lay out a road map for safer, more consumer-friendly technologies.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor

Optimizing the Offerings
A think tank called The Atlantic Council released a 12-page report today—written by security experts and technologists from Intel, supply chain software security provider Sonatype and The Atlantic Council's Cyber Statecraft Initiative. The authors listed the many benefits, both to individuals (financial savings) and to society in general (energy savings), that smart-home technology could unlock. But the report also laid out a chilling, imagined future in which the failure of manufacturers to build robust security protections into products could turn the smart, controllable home into a cyber-haunted domicile in which hackers controlled occupants' every move.

Though hyperbolic, the dystopian future the authors describe sets up a more practical discussion and list of best practices though which smart-home manufacturers can integrate smart security tools into products while also garnering competitive advantage in the marketplace. The full report is available here.

Rafi Zauer
But integrating security features is only part of the key to wider smart-home adoption, contends Rafi Zauer, head of marketing for smart home integration provider Essence. His firm sells a proprietary smart-home security device-management platform, known as WeR@Home Smart Living, which can also control ZWave smart-home devices, as well as devices that communicate over alterative protocols, such as the IPv6-based Thread protocol, via application programming interfaces (APIs).

In addition to improving data security, Zauer says, vendors must also start focusing on partnering with utilities and telecommunications providers to bring smart-home platforms to a wider audience—not just technophiles and other early adopters. Solutions must be more affordable and simple to operate for any homeowner, he adds, noting, "In the end, we want our customers' customers to not have to do any custom integration."

While telecommunications, insurance or utility providers are well positioned to integrate smart-home products and services into their existing offerings, Zauer believes consumers would feel more comfortable if those providers teamed up with other firms that are experts in security systems or energy-management platforms.

In addition, price points for smart-home offerings must fall significantly, Zauer says, citing two Essence customers that are selling Internet-based home security systems for as little as $250 in hardware costs and as little as $8 in monthly service subscription fees.

Finally, Zauer says, an important hurdle to adopting smart-home technologies is the need for consumers to learn new habits, and how to interact with new systems in their homes. "Until five or six years ago, we never thought about our home thermostats. But now, they can be the focal point of a smart home," he states. "Or look at smart TVs, which have an operating system that needs to be upgraded. This never happened with TVs in the past. We're trying to bridge the gap between consumer desire to connect with everything, on one hand, and on the other hand, not making life too difficult."

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