IoT World: Balancing user experience and privacy in home IoT hero graphic

From left to right: Derrick Dicoi (Comcast), Jeff Wilbur (Online Trust Alliance), Paul Russell (Teledyne LeCroy), Michelle Turner (Google), Rainer Sternfeld (Intertrust), and moderator Jessica Groopman (Kaleido Insights)

IoT World: Balancing user experience and privacy in home IoT

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By Phil Keys

“In the 20th century, humanity learned how to make stuff. In the 21st century, we have to learn how to control technology.” Quoting British futurist James Martin, Intertrust’s General Manager of Trusted Data Platforms Rainer Sternfeld caught much of the thrust of a panel discussion held at the 2019 Internet of Things World event. Entitled “The technological backbones that advance connected lifestyles,” in addition to Rainer, the panel brought together representatives from Comcast, the Online Trust Alliance, Teledyne LeCroy, and Google.

Interestingly enough, for a panel advertised as a technology-focused discussion, much of the conversation was really about how the market is turning to delivering meaningful experiences around home IoT devices. Michelle Turner, Sr. Director, Google Smart Home Ecosystem, noted that “command and control” solutions such as turning off lights automatically (often easier just to flick a light switch) were losing interest. “We are now moving from command and control to being more predictive,” (Turner). Saying that Comcast has also seen a shift over the last 18 or so months, Derrick Dicoi, Comcast’s VP Strategy & Product Management, Xfinity Home agreed. “Things should happen for you rather than you doing them,” (Dicoi).

With the switch to an approach where home IoT providers are trying to design more predictive approaches, providers are running into a dilemma. Command and control means that devices react to a user’s specific commands, directly reflecting the user’s will. More predictive experiences tend to rely more on context informed by data about the user. This, of course, runs head on into consumers’ understandable expectations of privacy. According to Jeff Wilbur, Technical Director, Online Trust Alliance, a survey found that 63% of users thought that home IoT was “creepy.”

Google’s Turner emphasized that having a “trust layer” for home IoT was very important. One concrete example of how Google is designing experiences to emphasize trust in devices is for devices with cameras, making sure the camera light is always turned on, even if the camera isn’t recording. This emphasizes for the user what the device is capable of doing. She also said that the power of home IoT devices was constantly improving, allowing designers to do more data processing locally. “People may not want all their data in the cloud,” (Turner).

Sternfeld brought up Intertrust’s home IoT work with the European utility innogy as an example of what is possible when adding a trust layer to a home IoT experience. Working with Intertrust’s trusted data platform, innogy is rolling out a home IoT gateway that can connect with and collect data from most any home IoT device. innogy then, of course with the user’s permission and following German law, uses the data to provide additional services from 3rd party providers to the user. One example is as discounts on home insurance for sharing sensor data with a home insurance provider. innogy uses Intertrust to provide these services “without sending out private data to third parties,” (Sternfeld). This use of a trust layer with home IoT data gives innogy the ability to offer the equivalent of an “app store” for third party services that respects user privacy. “While we don’t know what apps are going to be successful, we want to encourage the ecosystem to welcome all kinds of new data-driven business models,” (Sternfeld).