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When your connected home becomes the ultimate storefront

9 May 2018 | McAfee

Without controls in place, your privacy may be surrendered to corporate marketers, says McAfee.

Corporate marketers have powerful incentives to observe and understand the buying needs and preferences of connected home device owners. Networked devices already transmit a significant amount of information without the knowledge of the overwhelming majority of consumers. Customers rarely read privacy agreements, and, knowing this, corporations are likely to be tempted to frequently change them after the devices and services are deployed to capture more information and monetize it.

Homes as storefronts

In 2018, connected home device manufacturers and service providers will seek to overcome thin operating margins by gathering more of our personal data—with or without our agreement—as we practically surrender the home to become a corporate virtual store front.

With such dynamics in play, and with the technical capabilities already available to device makers, corporations could offer discounts on devices and services in return for the ability to monitor consumer behaviour at the most personal level.
Rooms, devices, and apps are easily equipped with sensors and controls capable enough to inform corporate partners of the condition of home appliances, and bombard consumers with special upgrade and replacement offers.

It is already possible for children’s toys to monitor their behaviour and suggest new toys and games for them, including upgrades for brand-name content subscriptions and online educational programs.
It is already possible for car manufacturers and their service centres to know the location of specific cars, and coordinate with owners’ calendars and personal assistants to manage and assist in the planning of their commutes. Coffee, food, and shopping stops could automatically be integrated into their schedules, based on their preferences and special offers from favourite food and beverage brands.

Utopia or Dystopia?

Whether this strikes you as a utopia for consumers and marketers, or a dystopian nightmare for privacy advocates, many aspects of these scenarios are close to reality. Data collection from the current wide range of consumer devices and services is running far ahead of what most people believe.

Although there is certainly a legal argument that consumers have agreed to the collection of their data, even those of us technically knowledgeable to know this is taking place do not read the contracts that we agree to, and some corporations might change them after the fact or go beyond what they promise.

We have seen numerous examples of corporate malfeasance in recent years. A flashlight app developer’s license agreement did not disclose that the app gathered geolocation data. Three years ago, a video game hardware company pushed an update with no option to refuse; users had to agree to new terms or stop using the product they had purchased.

In many agreements, users “agree” to all future changes that the company makes unilaterally to the terms: “Continued use of the service after any such changes shall constitute your consent to such changes.”

Earlier in July 2017, the US Federal Bureau of Investigation warned parents to be wary of connected children’s toys that could be capable of collecting their children’s personally identifiable information.

Businesses will continue to seek to understand what and how consumers consume in the privacy of their homes, certainly requiring more user data than consumers will likely be comfortable sharing. McAfee asserts that a substantial number of corporations will break privacy laws, pay fines, and still continue such practices, thinking they can do so profitably. But the FBI’s recent toy warning to parents might suggest that such approaches could result in regulatory and even criminal legal consequences.

2018 will provide new examples of how well, and how badly, corporations are able to navigate the temptations and opportunities presented by connected homes.

McAfee thanks the Electronic Frontier Foundation for their assistance with this article.

For more insights on cybersecurity, join McAfee Asia Pacific’s Chief Technology Officer, Ian Yip, at ConnecTechAsia Summit 2018’s EmergingTech Track. Marina Bay Sands, 26 June 2018. Delegates may register for the Summit here.

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