How smart a user are you of smart devices?

Person holding a tabletThe NHS COVID-19 app has brought issues of security and privacy in technology adoption to the fore. In this blog, Dr Emma Williams and Dr Emma Slade discuss their current research project exploring consumer adoption of smart home technology and ask… How smart a user are you of smart devices?

Do you have a front door that detects when you are near and unlocks for you? Do you ask Alexa about the weather or to play your favourite music? If yes, then you are the owner of a smart home. But just how smart a user are you of your smart devices?

Smart home devices are everyday objects found around the home that are now Internet connected, such as smart speakers and doorbells, and are considered part of the ‘Internet of Things’ (IoT).

‘Smart home’ is a term used to describe a house that contains a communication network (such as Wi-Fi), which connects these different smart home devices together and allows them to be remotely accessed, controlled, and monitored using a central smart device, such as a voice-controlled smart hub or a smartphone app. The central smart device functions like a remote control for connected smart home devices, enabling the user to do things such as turn on the lights and brew a coffee before getting out of bed in the morning, or communicate with someone ringing their doorbell.

Smart home devices can provide peace of mind to homeowners, improve home efficiency, and facilitate independent living. However, these advantages are accompanied by widespread security and privacy concerns[1] [2]. Smart toys, CCTV systems, and hubs can be hacked, giving access to video feeds and allowing hackers to mimic voice commands[3] [4] [5]. In 2018, the CloudPets smart toy was removed from sale on Amazon and eBay due to similar security flaws[6]. Such occurrences risk damaging consumer trust in smart home products, and have likely contributed to the slower than anticipated adoption of such technology[7].

Earlier this year, the UK Government’s Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport highlighted plans to develop further regulatory options regarding the security of consumer IoT devices[8]. This aims to reduce the emphasis on the consumer by ensuring that products are as secure as possible by default, an approach commonly known as ‘secure by design’. A key aspect of this also includes developing a better understanding how we can most effectively communicate security information to consumers.

As consumers, we all make a difference to the security of smart devices in our home. Undertaking regular updates, using secure passwords, and ensuring that we consider security in our purchase decisions. To help us be as secure as possible, the UK’s National Cyber Security Centre has provided guidance to consumers regarding how they can best secure their smart devices[9].

However, marketers also have an important part to play. It’s been suggested that product information and marketing materials lack sufficient security information to aid consumers[10] [11]. Engaging more effectively with consumers about security issues across the product lifecycle is an area where we have much to improve, from product choice to secure use and disposal. It is vital that we engage consumers with security issues across the entire spectrum of these activities.

Here in the University of Bristol Business School we are working with colleagues at Cardiff University and Cranfield University to explore what influences people to use smart home technologies and how they choose to interact with them, particularly how they consider and respond to security risks[12]. We look forward to keeping you posted as our project progresses!

This research is funded by the Centre for Research and Evidence on Security Threats (CREST)