For the Internet of Things (IoT) to work best it needs to be like a top class referee. Since they keep the game flowing, says Nick Booth, the very best refs are the ones you hardly even notice.
Technology should be in a supporting role, not dictating terms. However, humility is not a quality one would associate with Silicon Valley. It was a big problem when ego monsters like Larry Ellison ruled but social media helped the Poser Nostra to push into our private lives.
It’s debatable which is worse: the surveillance marketing business model, or the duplicitous schmaltzy names given to the spying disciplines. Customer stalking is called ‘relationship management’. Smart technology is frequently about snooping. Cookies are just creepy and social media is really ‘surveillance marketing’.
They say engagement, but I feel enragement. Let’s call the whole thing off!
Loss of trust
This loss of trust is a huge issue to the IoT industry as the connected home presents arguably the biggest commercial opportunity ever. It could dwarf everything we’ve seen so far, since it’s a bridge into every market, from health management to wealth management, property to proper tea.
But who stands to gain most when we allow software agents to infiltrate every gadget in our house?
Sadly it’s the baddies. Not just the blue collar ones (the hackers) but the blue chip mob. Currently, the US tech giants have all the relationships with the consumers, says Jeff Hunter, chief architect for YouView, the connected UK TV collective that includes BT, the BBC, TalkTalk and Channels 4 and 5.
The ‘smart speaker’ exemplifies how devious the tech giants are, according to artificial intelligence pioneer Inma Martinez, a guest lecturer at Imperial College and government advisor on the IoT. Martinez was speaking at a recent Information Builders summit on the IoT. Amazon’s voice–activated search speaker Alexa isn’t really a personal assistant at all it’s a salesbot, Martinez warned.
“Alexa’s search algorithms have been geared to push products,” says Martinez, “a search conducted via Alexa gives completely different results from a search conducted on the desktop.”
Fight for dominance
YouView chief executive Richard Halton has compared Amazon and Google’s fight for dominance in the smart speaker industry to the war for internet’s supremacy in the ’90s.
Smart (i.e. snooping) speakers wouldn’t be so bad if they were made by the usual gadget makers but the fact that they are coming from the companies that own search and retail is worrying. As with Facebook, the punter doesn’t realise that to the tech giants, they are the product.
Obviously, Youview would rather its members provided that bridgehead, rather than the surveillance marketing mob. “It’s all about how to gain trust,” says Hunter.
Given the recent publicity about Facebook’s indiscriminate use of its subjects’ data and Google’s sneaky cyber-surveillance techniques, we might expect the public to kick back against these companies.
YouView wants to gather information about how we use all the sensors in the garden, locks in the doors, cameras on the walls and control panels on the central heating. But the difference is the companies involved will anonymise the data and use it to manage the network better, says Hunter. Perhaps YouView could use its influence to persuade more people, or more service providers, to secure all the devices installed in our homes. All these D-Link and Linksys routers, which are connecting ever more gadgets, need to have their default passwords changed. There must be a money making service opportunity here.
Who will take it? The connected TV companies spend at least 4 hours a day interacting with the home. Their deception-free track record may make them a more trustworthy company to work with. “For us it’s about being open and a trusted partner,” says Hunter.
Securing the connected home
There is a huge amount of work to be done in securing the connected home, where most people are still using the default password that came with their router. The sensors and cameras are even less likely to be secured. Management of streams of data is still at a primitive level and hasn’t gone much past the plaintive cry of, “is someone downloading a movie?” when your online conference isn’t going well.
“We want TV to be the main platform to make the connected home simple and trustworthy,” says Hunter.
I wonder what Alexa would say about that?
The author of this blog is freelance technology writer, Nick Booth.