If your clients have looked dumbfounded at the mention of “the cloud” or if you’ve been met with shaking heads during a conversation about smart home security and privacy issues, you’re in good company.

As the definition of “smart home” evolves, the importance of security increases, becoming top of mind for consumers. In fact, privacy and security concerns are among the top purchase barriers for those who don’t own smart devices, revealed Tech Journalist Andrea Smith at a recent roundtable at CES 2021.

Participating in the discussion were Ohad Amir, CTO, Essence; Michelle Guss, director, Residential Business Development, Crestron; and Michael Mahan, VP, Home & Distribution Business, North America, Schneider Electric.

Rise of the Intelligent Home

All participants agreed at the top of the conversation that the actual definition of the smart home has changed. While a few years ago, it was enough for the lights to dim or brighten or the temperature to adjust based on our commands, today, the call is for the home to be more intelligent—to just “know” when to performs these actions.

“To truly make the home intelligent, it needs to do things automatically based on what the client likes to do during the day,” said Guss. 

After spending so much time at home the past year, like the rest of us, Mahan started to think “Why do I even have to ask [the home to perform these actions]? The house should just know that the lights dim at eight because it is almost bedtime.

“The stakes have been raised now,” Mahan added. “The home should anticipate how you use it.”

Guss and Mahan agreed that the market drivers now also have shifted. It is no longer just about lighting and temperature control, but air quality, energy usage and water management. 

Certainly, integrators are poised to provide a connected product for all of those needs, but Mahan asserted: “Expectations will continue to grow, and we as an industry need to figure out how to make those things work together in a way that makes sense for the homeowner.”

It is up to the integrator on the front and back ends to ease the homeowners’ concerns.

Because devices run on various platforms like Zigbee, ZWave and WiFi, at the start, Amir recommends that various chips be installed in the control unit to connect to what certain devices require. Also an option is having a layer in the cloud.

“At Essence, we do both, connect devices through [the control unit] and cloud-based integration with digital assistants like Alexa and Google Assistant to make it seem like all of it comes from the same system,” Amir explained.

To minimize interaction between devices and the cloud, Amir explained that Essence uses fog computing between edge devices and the cloud.

“All private items like videos are down at the edge, and the cloud only receives what it needs to and does more heavy lifting, “ Amir further explained.

Transparency Is Key 

The products that are providing convenience are exposing our privacy. Trading a bit of privacy for this convenience means integrators need to gain consumers’ trust.

“Consumer trust is essential for the development of the smart home industry,” Mahan noted. “If consumers do not trust the product or us with the data, then we won’t be able to provide those great experiences and adoption won’t get where we want it to.”

Mahan’s advice is to be completely transparent with the consumer, explaining risks versus benefits, which also means ensuring them that if there is a problem at any time, you will be there to correct it.

“Consumers need to make sure they do business with reputable companies and understand where their data is going,” Guss added. “Convenience will always trump privacy concerns if they understand what the data is doing and trust in it.”

Cybersecurity & The Cloud
Easing your clients’ concerns about their data is paramount in today’s smart home adoption. (Photo/courtesy Pixabay)

Also a must is making sure the company you’re working with is following the latest in cybersecurity, which will further enhance consumers’ trust. That said, the control company’s security measures may not always line up with devices homeowners introduce.

If the consumer brings in additional devices, especially those that are connected directly to the cloud, they should be educated on how to “opt-in” or “opt-out.”

“For devices that connect eventually to the cloud, the consumers should opt-in/opt-out,” Amir said. “They should also have the opportunity to get service at an additional price so the data will remain private and will not be shared or analyzed.”

The introduction on devices to the home poses potential security risks. Devices connected directly to the cloud can be more secure if they are independent of connections, that is, not connected to home network and other devices that come from other manufacturers, Amir explained. Standalone devices can be more secured.

For example, if there is a hack to one of your home cameras that is not secured, the hacker could obtain access to your entire network and “can easily hack into other home devices,” explained Amir.

“Having a separate connection prevents this from happening, leaving the hacker with the option to hack each device separately, thus making [him/her] work harder.”

And that is the goal, Guss agreed – to be smarter than the hackers. “It all comes back to the relationship with the company. Everything is evolving, and we need to stay in front of it.”

Featured photo: Courtesy fauxels