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Facebook's Scandal Shows Importance of Data Privacy in Smart Homes
The world’s most valuable resource is no longer oil. It’s data. In the digital era, data not only powers various online services, but also increasingly powers the real world as devices become more and more connected. Virtually any activity a person can engage in now leaves a digital footprint, and artificial intelligence technologies like machine learning have brought to light the value in these footprints. The giants in charge of this data economy—Alphabet (Google), Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Microsoft—have massive power and influence. Considering recent events, this is something to be ever warier about as consumers.
Facebook has been under immense scrutiny over the Cambridge Analytica scandal. In short, it involves the unauthorized sale of private data to companies that used the data to manipulate the US presidential election and arguably other major global events.
Until now, the added convenience a technology like Facebook brings to our lives—such as relevant news, event planning, and the ability to connect with friends and family—has seemed like a price worth paying in exchange for our data. What this story shows about the tech titans who control our digital era is that our data is not only used to target us with more relevant stuff to buy. It’s also shaping the world we live in and making real-life impacts.
What Does This Mean for the Smart Home?
We are increasingly letting these big tech giants into our lives, not only through use of their traditional online services, but through physical devices in our homes. The increasingly popular and widely adopted devices peddled by these companies, be it smartphones, voice-activated speakers, connected cameras, or smart thermostats among copious other residential IoT devices, are creating touchpoints in the home by which these companies can collect even more data.
As consumers, we may think our data is fairly useless. The Facebook scandal shows that all the data we give away for free has immense real-world value. It’s more important than ever for consumers to be aware of the devices that they bring into their homes, how their data is being used, and the effects that can have, especially as the smart home market continues to grow.
Should Consumers Abandon Connected Tech?
This isn’t to say that consumers should stop using online services or avoid adopting smart home technologies—that is unrealistic. It means that as we continue to adopt connected devices, construct smart ecosystems in our homes, and divulge the details of our personal lives to these companies, data privacy needs to be top priority. This is increasingly becoming the case. General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is set to take effect at the end of May, and it will massively influence any company serving EU citizens and residents by requiring measures be taken that better protect and ensure the privacy of user data. Though this is a positive development, there is much to be done in the realm of data privacy.
For consumers, it’s important to consider the worth in convenience via technology. While the prospects of a smart home can bring a range of benefits to our lives and the bigger picture of smart grid operations, the value in what we provide digitally-driven companies should not be taken for granted. For device manufacturers and smart home tech vendors, it’s more crucial than ever to be transparent and reassuring about the investments they are making in protecting our data in order to avoid losing consumer trust and hindering technology adoption.