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April 12, 2016updated 05 Sep 2016 11:29am

Could consumer distrust kill IoT? Why calls for security, privacy and transparency should not be ignored

Analysis: Eye opening figures reveal that nearly 1 in 4 users are concerned about machines taking over.

By Joao Lima

The biggest challenge most IoT manufacturers are facing today, from connected cars to smart home solutions, is not the technology itself but the IoT distrust amongst consumers.

With Gartner predicting the IoT market to top $1.9tr in economic benefits by 2020, businesses have been urged to listen to consumers’ calls for more security, privacy and overall transparency.

A global survey by mobile trade body Mobile Ecosystem Forum (MEF) in association with AVG has found that as many as 60% of consumers worldwide are worried about connected devices. A further one in ten (11%) sees no benefit in IoT devices at all.

In the UK, IoT is seen as a source of concern to one in every two consumers (50%). Despite being the lowest percentage when compared to other countries, it is fair to say it is still a high ratio.

The global study, "The Impact of Trust on IoT", found that privacy (62%) and security (54%) were the top IoT trust concerns, named twice as often as concerns such as physical safety (27%) or not being able to fix a device if it breaks down (24%).

In the UK, online security (67%) was found to be consumers’ main concern, followed by privacy (66%) and physical security (26%).

Machines taking over the Earth was found to be Brits fourth biggest worry (23%). This is more than the global average (21%) who believe this is a potential risk with the IoT.

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Rimma Perelmuter, CEO of MEF, said: "Whilst this survey shows that consumers are excited about a future connected world, it also clearly identifies the need for the industry to consider how such technology and services are rolled out when it comes to building a trusted relationship with consumers.

He said: "The business opportunities surrounding IoT are clear, but only if industry heeds the lessons of the broader mobile ecosystem when it comes to the paramount importance of building consumer trust at the outset."

iot kill

Smart home or house of fear?

In the smart home space, home invasion was named as the biggest fear for consumers (30%). 15% of consumers said that they were specifically worried about IoT-enabled door locks, which could enable unwanted individuals to enter their houses.

In the global smart home, TVs (10%), irons (6%), heating systems (6%), smoke detectors (6%), ovens (5%) and lighting (5%) were named as the objects in the home which would raise the most concerns about being connected to the internet.


iot home


Transparency and open source route to IoT success

On the whole, consumers are demanding high levels of transparency. Globally, 41% of consumers said transparency is extremely important, backed by 11% who see it as very important. In the UK, this ranks at 36% and 11%, respectively.

Surprisingly, 23% of UK consumers said transparency is not important at all. In comparison, Chinese consumers are the most demanding when it comes to IoT transparency.

Todd Simpson, CSO at AVG, said: "MEF’s research shows a year-over-year decrease in consumer faith, which continues to dip as the war on privacy wages on, leaving users to deal with deciding what data tradeoffs are worthwhile. And this is happening across industries, nowhere more powerfully than in advertising, with the uptake of ad blockers."

He said that unless checked, "I have no doubt we will reach a point where customers’ objection to trading privacy for connectivity will push them into disengaging altogether".

Simpson said: "The only way to stop this very real erosion of consumer trust is to act. We in the industry need to slow the race and make sure we are getting privacy and security right from the get-go.

"If the IoT is to stand any chance of long-term, safe adoption that will benefit not just innovative companies but also the customers they are here to serve, we need to make this a fundamental standard, no matter the device."

Cesare Garlati, chief security strategist at open source prpl Foundation said that there are three focus areas that will make IoT more secure.

These include using open source security software, interoperable open standards, forging a root of trust in hardware to support signed firmware updates and secure boot, and "more importantly, security by separation", for example, hardware virtualisation.

Garlati told CBR: "While secure elements and root of trust might not be available in most hardware today, this should not prevent security conscious manufacturers from encrypting and signing their firmware and from making security patches timely available.

"In time, if the industry can evolve to a hardware approach, it will make IoT much more secure."


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