Guest Opinion: Let’s Carefully Consider What We Put in Homes

Guest Opinion

If someone asked you where you feel safest, what would you say?

In your car? On an airplane? In your office?

I think of my home. It’s my refuge — truly, my safe place. I don’t have any rock-solid data, but my intuition tells me that many people feel the same way.

Not since the industrial revolution has there been as big an explosion of new home products designed to improve our daily lives. For many of us in marketing, it’s going to be a windfall of sorts, because nothing sells like safety — well, okay, maybe a couple of things sell better, but it’s near the top of the list — and many products for the home fall under the Internet of Things (IoT) banner.

Connected. Convenient. Capable. Powered by the internet. Able to leap tall buildings in a … well, you get the idea of some of the claims.

What About Safety?

If most people feel safest at home, and we’re going to bring them a parade of IoT products designed to improve their lives, shouldn’t everyone feel even safer? The answer, of course, is yes — but the reality is closer to “maybe.” Here’s why: With each connected “smart” device we install in our homes — from a cylinder we can talk to and that talks back and does stuff for us, to connected refrigerators, automated thermostats, and video doorbells — we open our homes to many different entities that request, and to whom we give, a considerable amount of personal information. It’s all in the name of convenience, but it also carries the risk of turning our sanctuaries into something else.

For marketers and agencies alike, the carrot being dangled before us is solid gold, because we’re going to be asked and compensated to help distribute many of these products directly to consumers. There’s every good reason we should — as long as we have the presence of mind to be cautious. I’ve done a fair amount of research, learning what many of these products can and cannot do for us in the home, as well as: how much and what kind of information they collect and compile about us; with whom they share it; how much they’re being paid for that knowledge; what they are allowed to do with it; and what they may be permitted to do down the road without any further consultation with me, you, or anyone. 

‘Remote’ Access

It may not seem like a big deal, but think for a moment. A device as harmless as a Wi-Fi universal remote control can transmit every single channel selection you’ve made for any period desired, independently of your cable/satellite TV provider (because most already have/use/sell that information). The folks collecting that data could sell it to anyone — without anyone in your household knowing about it beyond a one-time acceptance of their lengthy “terms of service.” The potential for personal privacy piracy is staggering, on a scale many of us haven’t begun to contemplate.

Don’t misunderstand: I’m not against IoT or the smart home. I actually own that exact Wi-Fi remote control, plus a connected fridge, and several other Wi-Fi devices. But, I’ve been attentive to the “terms of service” for each — which, in some cases, has been a nightmare. But if I’ve understood them correctly and they stick to what they promise, my home should remain the safest place on earth for me.

I just want the performance-based marketing industry to be at the forefront of the IoT revolution — smarter and better stewards of business and our communities than those lured by the no-holds-barred profit motive driving development of all these products that may or may not enhance our lives through a more connected smart home.

I’m not perfect. I’m always in need of guidance. I’m simply suggesting that we stop and think before we sign up to help sell the next connected smart-home widget. The onslaught of home and housewares products is going to be on a scale we’ve never seen before, and the temptation will be great to dive in head first without checking to see if there is enough water in the pool to risk it. ■