IoT, Privacy and what we don’t realize

IoT, Privacy and what we don’t realize

Last week I had the pleasure of speaking at the recent local ASUG chapter meeting at the SAP HQ offices in Newtown Square, PHL. It was a great day and I met some incredibly nice and open people who came together to partake in some awesome discussions around SAP, IoT and social media.

When Derek Loranca contacted me and asked for my title I settled on the concept of “Bringing IoT back to reality”. I landed on this topic as I’ve had a few discussions about IoT with customers and I found that they didn’t equate some of their existing everyday experiences with being powered and influenced by IoT. To cut a long story short it ended up being a fairly lively session with some great thought-provoking discussion both during and after, but a few of the discussions after the session really got me thinking.

Tinfoil hat anybody?

During the session I told the story of my recent experience buying my Apple Watch where my entire purchase was triggered through a notification to my phone based on the fact that I was in an Apple store. Apple place iBeacons throughout their stores and (if you have their app installed) can tell when you are in the store as well as where you currently are. Now in my case I was on the fence about buying a watch anyway so there wasn’t much persuasion required but I still found it fascinating to be the customer on the receiving end of a sales process powered/triggered by IoT.

My knowledge of how this technology works as well as my experience with Big-Data and analytics has left me under no illusion as to how this data is being used. What fascinates me is the realization that this acceptance (on my part) is quite unusual.

Lets be clear, there was nobody running out the room screaming “GET OUT OF MY HEAD!!” but there were some clear concern from those who had not considered that a) this data was being collected and b) this data was being used actively in their buying experience today.

The Concerns

Every concern being raised is a valid one:

  • I haven’t given them permission to track me (actually you have if you install their app!)
  • What else do they know about me?
  • Who are they giving access to that data?
  • How do I stop them tracking me?

It got me thinking about the countless people who fall into the same camp and would be utterly stunned if they knew just how much companies know about us.

I’ve just finished reading a book by “Charles Duhigg” called “The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business” (an awesome read for anybody looking for a good book). He tells the story of how a retailer, “Target”, experimented with utilizing their vast stores of data to identify when a family had a new pregnancy. They then used that information to target that family with relevant advertising. What they found was akin to what I have described above including shock, outrage and even a feeling that their privacy had been invaded. I’ll let you read the book to find out where that story went but suffice to say, Target’s behavior had to change to ensure they didn’t freak out their customers.

What we don’t realize

There are two sides to the word “we” here – firstly I think that we in the tech sector could do a lot better at educating the population at large about what data we have, how we use it and how, ultimately, it is (mostly) in their best interest. It’s my opinion that the more that an honest retailer knows about you, the better off you will likely be.

What the general public doesn’t realize is that, in this world of always-on data, we should expect that our location, habits and more are being tracked for lots of reasons. If I walk outside with my Android phone, I know that Google is likely tracking my route as well as where I stopped and where I am likely to go next. Equally, in the case of my Apple Watch experience, if we install the app of a retailer, we are giving them permission to know when we walk near and into one of their stores.


It is obvious that there is more to be done to bridge the divide between what companies know and what consumers think they know. I’m not sure I know the answer to this problem other than adhering to my own ethos; If I carry a device that has software from a company, then they can potentially know what that device knows, including where I am, what I googled and my habits in general.

So my question to readers would be – is this something that concerns you? and what steps will YOU take to mitigate this problem (if any)?

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.