Internet of Things (IoT) – Good or Bad?

 

The Internet of Things, or IoT for short, is basically the inter-networking of devices (connected devices) to collect and exchange data and to control such devices remotely. Based on the definition for IoT, you may be thinking that it’s the future. Actually, it’s the present. We have been using IoT devices for years now.

Home Automation

So far, the biggest market for IoT devices is in home automation. The Nest product line is one such example. There are also refrigerators and laundry machines that are “connected” where you can open an app to view the status of your devices and also control them.

For example, open the app for your refrigerator and you can view how stocked it is and know what you may need to buy. Turn on/off the ice maker. View data in terms of how often someone opens the door.

For the laundry machine, you can view the status to see how much longer it’ll run without having to walk over and check on it. View data on how much water has been used for the month and so forth.

Have we really gotten this lazy? Or do we just want the convenience of having the information and control at our fingertips wherever we are?

I’ve been hesitant to purchase products that are part of the IoT initiative and I’ll go into details later on. But, I do have the Nest Thermostat in my house and I do find it very convenient. I no longer have to go up and down the stairs to control the heating and air conditioner. I can set time frames on when I want things to turn on and off. It’s also a smart learning device in that it can “learn” how I like things in the house and automatically turn things on or off.

As said before, I’m hesitant to purchase these products but I got the Nest Thermostat as part of installing solar panels for my house. Solar City threw it in for free and how can you say no to free.

Other Industries

IoT isn’t limited to home automation but it’s been the biggest selling market, at least from a consumer standpoint. These days, you’ll have connected devices such as heart monitoring implants, security systems, automobiles, remote sensors and field operation devices to assist firefighters and so forth.

Even parking structures can be a part of the IoT. Have you seen some parking structures with digital displays showing how many parking spaces are available on each floor? Imagine having an app where you can view this data remotely so you can plan where to park if one structure is fuller than another.

The Bad

The main reason I’m hesitant to buy products that are part of the IoT is that you’re at the mercy of that company to continue supporting it. Most people don’t understand how the technology works. They think that when you open the app to control your device, that the app is connected directly to the device. Actually, it’s not.

The IoT device connects through your wi-fi and through the internet to servers operated by that company. When you install the app on your phone, that app talks to the servers and connects to your device through that server.

If the company decides to stop supporting that product and shuts down those servers, you no longer have access to your device from your app. Even if your internet is down, you no longer have control of your device from the app.

Why should we be worried about these issues? Because a company has stopped supporting a product line before and those customers could no longer use that product. Before Nest came out with the smart thermostat, they had a product called the Revolv hub they acquired back in 2014. Last year, Nest shut down support and the Revolv hub became paperweight since it relied on being connected to work. As you can imagine, the customers were extremely unhappy and I don’t blame them.

See this article for more details on the Nest Revolv shut down.

I was OK with the Nest thermostat because if Nest ever decided to shut down support, I can still use it directly on the device itself. It will still control my heating and AC but I will no longer have control remotely. Having the Nest thermostat connected was only optional, not a requirement.

Data Collection

One of the main reasons behind the IoT initiative is data collection as part of big data. With the collection of data, companies can tailor future products to better suit us for how we use the products. Other uses for collection of data is in environmental monitoring, for example.

I’m sure right now my heating and AC usage data is being collected by Nest. Nest has a privacy policy that limits the use and protect our privacy. But, in the end, they are still collecting data even though it may not have our name and address tied to that data.

In this day and age, information is power. With IoT devices, data collection and how the company uses that data is the only way for that company to continue moving forward and be competitive. So, you’ll never get away from this unless you only use non-connected “old skool” devices.

Security

The part that rarely scares people but it should is the security aspect of it. With everything connected, it makes it too easy for hackers to get your information and control your devices. If you have an IoT type security system, hackers can view your feeds remotely and see what you’re doing.

I have the Arlo Smart HD Security Camera system with four cameras placed around my house. I do not have any inside my house. So, if a hacker was to hack in and view my camera feeds, I don’t care since it’s only the outside of my house they’re seeing. The Arlo cameras I have do not have audio capability so hackers wouldn’t be able to listen in on any conversation.

However, there’s been too many news reports where hackers are viewing the inside of your house from baby cameras and listening to you, for example. In most cases, the people who setup those cameras did not password protect them or used the default password, which any newbie hacker can easily figure out.

In one such example, the baby camera/monitor also includes two-way audio and at one point, a parent noticed someone talking to their baby through the baby monitor. Protect your devices as much as you can!

I’m surprised there are still people who don’t use any security feature on their smartphone. In many of the apps for these connected devices, you don’t always have to log in when you open the app. Once you’ve logged in once, it saves your login data so you don’t have to type it in again.

So if someone was to get a hold of your unprotected phone, they not only have access to your information, contacts, email and so forth but also have control of your connected devices.

The Future

Over time, more and more devices will be connected. That’s the reality of our society. Just remember to use complex passwords, two-step authentication if available and protect yourself as best you can. Good or bad, it’s something we’ll be living with. Just be smart about it.

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