Smart home tech might make the world care about privacy

The smart speaker market has grown 200% year-over-year, with 9 million units sold in the first quarter of 2018. As the popularity of these devices increase, so are the concerns over the privacy of the users. Last week, a family in Portland said their Amazon Echo shared their private conversation to an acquaintance on their contact list. Luckily, the recorded conversation was just a chat about home renovations. But as smart home technology is being integrated into our daily lives, are we gambling our privacy?

This becomes an important topic especially after the recent furor over Facebook’s lack of data privacy protections, which resulted in the compromise of 87 million users’ personal information. While many care about their privacy in the physical world, it is hard to think about protecting ourselves when online “walls” aren’t really there. Multiple studies have shown that the mere existence of a privacy policy on a website makes users feel more secure, even though a policy in itself is no guarantee that their data won’t be sold to third parties.

If they want to thrive amid rising privacy concerns in the long term, manufacturers of smart home products would be wise to take a page from Airbnb’s book. Airbnb puts trust at the core of its business model. Our homes are our most private spaces and hosts are only willing to open their homes to strangers because the startup empowers them with access to information about potential guests.

Smart home makers should find ways to forge trust through transparency, sharing with customers what data is being collected and how it’s being used. They should create new business models that don’t rely on collecting personal data, but on building trust – and even community – with customers.

On the other hand, if users need a greater privacy protection for themselves, they should also start lobby for the ability to control their own data. Only through a combination or regulatory action and consumer buying preference will the future of IoT move away from one-sided exploitation and toward greater trust and transparency

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