Why I'm giving the internet of things the cold shoulder

Dom Burch is the founder and MD of Why Social, a strategic marketing consultancy, and former senior director of marketing innovation and new revenue at Asda. Trained in PR, Dom has spent the last 17 years in a variety of comms roles at Asda, Direct Line and Green Flag including head of PR and head of social.

There's nothing quite like a catch-all phrase like 'the internet of things' to inspire and frustrate in equal measure.

After all, talking about 'things' is about as useful as saying the world wide interweb of 'stuff'.

It's amorphous. Nebulous. Or any other cerebral word meaning utter bollocks.

The IoT, as the real techy gurus refer to it these days, is so vague as to mean absolutely nothing, but also so broad as to capture every new device on the market that has a Wi-Fi beacon attached to it. And if it is an IoT device it is going to revolutionise our lives.

As a result respected research houses are falling over themselves to pen thought leading reports on the topic.

Did you know that according to Gartner there are already more than six billion devices connected to the internet, and by 2020 that will grow to more than 20 billion?

Actually, Intel estimates 200 billion new smart objects will be gracing the planet by 2020.

According to Forrester, the internet of things is quickly moving from concept to reality as more and more new products ship with sensors and data connectivity built directly into them.

'The amount of data companies can gather, combined with their ability to respond and adapt to that data, promise to enhance the customer experience.'

Brilliant. Amazing. So what? No really, so what?

It reminds me of those heady days of a bygone era when RFID tags were going to take over the world.

Six years ago various journals were reporting that the next big privacy concern was RFID 'Spychips'.

'We are closer to cradle-to-grave surveillance than most people realize.'

Shock. Horror.

RFID didn't really take off though, did it? The cost of embedding tags never came down low enough. And all those amazing use cases trumped up by those in the know seemed to vanish quicker than a case load of cigarettes from the back door of a supermarket warehouse. 'If only we'd tagged them fags God dammit.'

With a serious head on for a moment though, the internet of things has had a bad run of late.

Only last week The Drum reported 60 per cent of global mobile users are "worried" about living in a world of connected devices, with privacy and security among their main concerns, according to research from the Mobile Ecosystem Forum (MEF).

Although nine out of 10 people recognise that the internet of things would be of value to their lives, over half harboured concerns about the possible risks that come with the technology.

According to Marc Goodman, writing for Wired, they have good reason to be concerned.

He claims the FBI recently detained a computer security researcher who apparently had accessed data from a United Airlines flight's engines, mid-flight, while seated on an aircraft as it flew from Chicago to Denver.

The breach reportedly occurred when the hacker plugged his own laptop into an available port underneath his seat, bypassing the in-flight entertainment system software to access the plane's flight management system.

Scary stuff if true. But even if it's not, the idea that everyday inanimate objects are now super-connected mini computers means bored hackers have far more targets to aim for, and numpties like me could be sleep walking towards them with open palms, and wallets.

Goodman adds: "Though more and more of the inanimate objects in our lives are becoming 'smart', there is no guarantee they will remain loyal. Home networks can be subverted via Nest thermostats, not only allowing hackers to remotely raise your heating while you're on holiday, but also to know that you are out in the first place by seeing the device has entered 'away mode', a perfect time for burglars to visit."

Now it's easy to go through life overly worrying about things that rarely happen to you, but more importantly, do people actually want or need their thermostat to be smarter than it already is? Or their iron for that matter.

When I walk in to the house I turn the heat up. When I go to bed I turn it down.

I don't want my fridge to be the family hub centre, as Samsung would like to believe.

Maybe it's just me, but our fridge is reserved for novelty magnets holding up various crayon drawings by the kids, and a shopping list which we add to as stuff runs out.

The idea that most UK homes are both large enough to house a US-sized double fridge, or that a screen on said fridge is going to be enough of a pull to get us to gather round it as a family feels bonkers to me.

Most families I know congregate in the lounge. Typically on a sofa. In front of the big box we used to call a TV. And before you ask, it isn't a smart one. I've heard they can listen to your conversations and monitor what you're saying can't they?

As ever with technological advances, just because we can, doesn't mean we will.

Digitising my music means I can take it with me wherever I go.

Automatically connecting to my car when I get in via Bluetooth is helpful.

Starting the engine, but keeping the doors closed until my finger print touches the door handle is truly smart.

Opening the garage door remotely means I don't have to get out to do it myself.

Starting the windscreen defroster from the comfort of my house before venturing out is ace.

But expecting me to sit in front of the fridge with the kids? Please.

Follow Dom on Twitter @DomBurch

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