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Could YouView save our home from surveillance marketing by the Big Browser brigade

The IoT-connected home is becoming a location for commercial opportunities for the channel finds Nick Booth

I hate to sound like one of the Gloominatti, but the creepiness of the big Browser brigade makes me wary about tech giants who stand to infiltrate our connected homes.

Alexa: what’s the creepiest phrase in IT? “We value your privacy.”

What that devious duplicitous phrase really means is ‘we put a price on your privacy’ - and they sell it to the highest bidder.

‘Smart’ is another phrase with double sided coinage. A more accurate name for any Smart gadgetry, whether it’s a router a meter or a virtual personal assistant, would be snooping technology.

I don’t want to open my home up to someone who ‘values’ my privacy. But I’d welcome someone who respects it.

At the vanguard of the privacy respecting movement is YouView, the connected TV coalition. There is a really important role for the reseller channel too, because equipment vendors, installers and systems integrators could make people aware of close off all the opportunities for unwanted intrusions.

The connected home threatens to invade our privacy even more than it has already. The companies best placed to exploit our personal lives are the ‘Big Browser’ crowd: Google, Amazon and Facebook, any of those companies that seem to use Orwell’s dystopian novel NineTeen Eighty Four as an instruction manual for their creepy surveillance marketing techniques. 

The connected home could be wonderfully liberating. Companies like D Link, Netgear, Samsung and TP Link are creating fantastic opportunities for the channel to connect everything in the home to the Internet. Everything from your boiler to your blood pressure can be monitored and managed by an experienced professional. But how do we get a machine to machine network without our smart meters becoming snoop mongers? Machine to machine communications could liberate us from toil but exactly the opposite will happen if the Big Browser crowd use the IoT to create an Internment of Things.

The danger is that US tech giants own all the relationships with consumers, according to Jeff Hunter, the chief architect behind YouView.

The connected home is a real opportunity because it builds a bridge into everything we do. Our health, our shopping habits, our work. Can it be healthy for companies like Facebook to extend their tentacles?

The connected TV companies of which YouView comprises (including BT, the BBC, Channels 4 and 5) have an audience that spends four hours a day interacting with them.

Could they provide a more palpable and socially responsible conduit for all the information being gathered about consumer habits? The intelligence gathered about how people use the IoT in their connected homes could be anonymised and used for constructive and socially useful purposes, promises Hunter.

“YouView aims to provide a safe trusted environment, a brand you can trust to have no ulterior motive,” says Hunter.

The firm proposes to use anonymised information about, say, usage patterns of devices, but for management purposes, Hunter says.

In this case I’m confident that’s not one of those IT industry weasel words, like ‘for training purposes’ which really means ‘for intimidation purposes’.

The aim of YouView is to help the ISPs, such as BT, PlusNet and Talk, to stream data more effectively. “We aim to monitor the health of the platform and to detect and address issues before they have an impact on the network,” says Hunter. Yes, they might personalise your experiences to help streams of data run more effectively one way, and streams of revenue the other, but the difference is your personal life is not being violated.

In the meantime, the resellers of the kit have an opportunity to add value. In July cyber security firm eSentire identified a new, coordinated campaign to attack home routers. Its 2018 Q1 Threat Report noted a 539% rise in attacks on consumer-grade routers (like Netgear and Linksys) from Q4 2017 to Q1 2018.

D-Link has its answer with its Covr Dual Band Whole Home Wi-Fi System. The problem with all this IoT equipment is that people never change the default passwords, so surely there’s a massive opportunity for, say, The D-Link channel and other partners to secure the smart home.

Let’s hope a responsible outfit like YouView is the enabler - not the ‘smart’ surveillance marketing creeps in the Big Browser compound.

This was last published in September 2018

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