a goji smart lock greeting owner by name
User control over their data is about to come center stage and one place we'll see this played out is with the growing internet of things PHOTO: Maurizio Pesce

As the Internet of Things (IoT) readies itself for the information age’s next big leap, we are going to see a lot more debate this year and in the future about data security and privacy — with user control taking center stage.

It won’t be long before our discourse shifts to how IoT can co-exist with users who will soon have an unprecedented degree of oversight when it comes to dictating how their consumer data is captured, used, protected, bought and sold. 

Here are five reasons why:

1. Regulation

On May 25, 2018, the European General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) will go into effect, mandating — among other things — a stricter opt-in-based approach to customer communication.

Constructed to protect personal data by giving control of it back to the consumer, the GDPR can penalize brands up to €20M (about $23 million) or 4 percent of global revenue, whichever is higher, for non-compliance. What’s more, this penalty will affect companies worldwide, since GDPR will impact any organization, no matter where it is domiciled, that handles the data of European citizens.

While US lawmakers may be taking a different approach toward regulation — witness last year’s scuttling of FCC rules designed to force broadband providers to provide consumers with greater data security, transparency and control —  the global pendulum is clearly in motion. All around the world, consumers will be regaining ownership of their personal data.

And especially as we march toward a more IoT-driven world, that shift simply makes sense.

2. Technology

While many still cling to the notion that giving consumers control over their data will sound the death knell for marketing, a more forward-looking point of view sees it as a golden opportunity to create the kind of deeper, longer-lasting relationships with consumers that will start paying off even before we reach the days where the IoT will connect everything.

Even now, new enterprise apps are popping up to serve customers in these ways when IoT takes root. For example, the advent of ‘single-view-of-consent’ dashboards with fine-grained, permissions-based and cross-channel data management will soon allow brands to serve consumers and cater to their communications tastes in seamless fashion, all within their user-defined control parameters.

3. Security Threats

Right now, hackers can do far more than just penetrate networks and abscond with private data. Sometimes they can break into the most intimate moments of our lives, hacking teddy bears, webcams or spying on citizens through smart TVs.

If this is the state of IoT security for today’s estimated 23 billion connected devices, what will it be like in 2020 when there will be an estimated 50-plus billion of them? Any breach of trust will result in tempered usage or outright rejection of the device or provider in question because consumers’ digital identities will become their keys to this new connected world.

In short, their identities will become the most valuable things they own and they will fight to protect them.

4. Consumer's Expectations

Giving marketers free rein over how consumer data is collected, retained and used invariably seems to result in advertising that doesn’t have much of anything to do with the end user.

And people are becoming increasingly wary of this: Consider last year’s 30 percent increase in global ad blocking that now brings the total to 600 million ad-blocked devices. Companies can try getting around it, but in the end, forcing a brand’s ads onto the ad-blocking public is like trying to be friends with someone who wants nothing to do with you.

Why fight it? According to a survey conducted by AdBlock Plus, 75 percent of its users tolerate what they consider to be non-disruptive ads. In other words, consumers are happy to let certain messages through, as long as they are approached respectfully, responsibly and in ways that appeal to their needs.

Bottom line: Brands that realize this will be able to build the trust that’s necessary to keep customers coming back.

5. User-Defined IoT Data Permissions

With IP-connected toothbrushes, smoke alarms and pet food dispensers popping up everywhere, there’s little doubt that consumers will soon be immersed in IoT. Consumers may not fully understand just what IoT is just yet, but once they start embracing even a few of the many web-connected devices, they will not only come to understand how IoT services directly benefit them, but most likely start wondering what happens to all that personal data they’re giving out.

For instance, having Alexa order you a pizza will require the virtual assistant to know where you live. But will every customer want Amazon to keep this information on file? Will they be comfortable with another company using this information for a pizza delivery advertisement distributed through Alexa?

The connected home will know when you’re home and when you’re out and about. What about the bad guys? What if they know, too? The combination of transparency and user-defined data permissions will help keep IoT healthy.

But take away that control, and consumers could start putting limitations on the devices that they let in, allowing hacking and careless data management to continue to wreak havoc.