A new Workgroup aims to improve smart home data privacy

Martin Brinkmann
Feb 23, 2023
Updated • Feb 22, 2023

Smart devices are everywhere these days. Besides the obvious ones, like Amazon's Alexa, most TVs or robot vacuums, smart is being integrated into many different devices and products. There are smart pet and baby cameras, door bells, thermostats, refrigerators, microwaves, and even smart toasters.

smart home devices privacy

All of these devices promise to deliver more than traditional devices, usually through the collection of data, or the use of data.

While there are arguments for and against smart devices, what is clear is that most of these are quite data hungry. Privacy is a major problem, especially when it comes to sensitive areas like the own home. No one wants to have their photo taken by their robot vacuum while sitting on the toilet and then shared online, right?

Most smart device owners do not know much about the data that their smart devices collect, where it is transferred to, how it is processed, and used.

The Data Privacy Working Group is a new initiative by the organization that is behind Matter, the Connectivity Standards Alliance (CSA), to develop a privacy certification for smart home devices. Matter is a smart home interoperability standard that is developed by companies such as Samsung, Google, Apple and Amazon.

The main advantage of Matter is that it is manufacturer--independent. If a smart home device supports Matter, it can be integrated into an existing setup, even if the other products are from different manufacturers.

The Privacy initiative for smart devices

In the announcement, the group notes that it is more important than ever to protect user rights in a world that is becoming more and more dependent on smart devices.

Solving privacy is "imperative to the overall health of the IoT industry", according to the group. It notes: "the Data Privacy Working Group aims to develop a certification program that will certify the data privacy of IoT devices and related services in conformance with a new Alliance Data Privacy specification".

The group wants to strengthen transparency, best practices and verification processes to help consumers build trust. Customers will better understand "what data is being collected, how it is used, and if it complies with existing privacy requirements" according to the group's announcement.

The alliance admits that its new privacy initiative can only succeed if regulators and companies that produce smart devices or the tech for these devices will come onboard.

Will it matter?

Matter is backed by major tech companies, and any initiative that is coming from the Connectivity Standards Alliance has a lot of weight behind it already. It remains to be seen if all members of the Alliance are onboard with the new privacy working group.

Still, even if all members are supporting the initiative, it still remains to be seen how other manufacturers will react to the proposition and how it will look like in the end.

If a standard is passed and used by the majority of manufacturers, it could indeed be beneficial to home users who buy smart devices.

A new Workgroup aims to improve smart home data privacy
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A new Workgroup aims to improve smart home data privacy
A privacy workgroup of the Connectivity Standards Alliance, which is behind Matter, aims to improve smart home privacy.
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  1. Tom Hawack said on February 23, 2023 at 12:13 pm

    No standards focusing on users’ privacy will make its way because users increasingly abandon the very idea of privacy. Tomorrow’s digital audience will be composed of 99% of users who’d dance naked on Times Square if it brought them a service they consider valuable and 1% who remain faithful to human dignity.

    That’s the way it goes, let us admit it, humanity is essentially driven by principles to the extent it doesn’t interfere in their short-term pseudo-advantage and perhaps as well don’t really take the time to consider if iOt devices bring a true improvement to their lives.

    The problem is far less the wolves which have always existed, which are a natural component of life, then sheep who not only go where they’re told to go but which moreover go there with a smile, with demand, where and when the green grass, 1,000 feet below, is accessed after a definite dive into their very own lives. Misanthropist I am, misanthropist I remain. Hopeless.

    1. Yash said on February 23, 2023 at 4:46 pm

      ‘Tomorrow’s digital audience will be composed of 99% of users who’d dance naked on Times Square if it brought them a service they consider valuable.’
      Not sure about valuable service but 99% of tomorrow’s audience will dance naked if it meant more views/clicks. In many ways that is the end goal of oligarchs/capitalists/all the bad names you can throw at them. Return the world to the past where people would do everything to get their 2 meals a day while at the same time feel grateful about it. Onlyfans currently is the most notable example. Even social media influencers(not big ones who earn millions) are already doing it.

      1. Tom Hawack said on February 23, 2023 at 10:21 pm

        @Yash, I often hear this rhetoric which explains that misery is always caused by what I called wolves and what you detail as “oligarchs/capitalists/all the bad names”. I hear as well that the masses are brainwashed by the powerful. The problem with these explanations is that they implicitly consider that an individual is irresponsible when dominated and faulty when dominating.

        I’d rather consider that vice and virtue exist independently of social considerations. I’d rather consider that the masses manipulated by the powerful are as responsible of their sheep attitude as wolves are of their lucky strikes. Power is not the problem, what you do of it is the first part of the problem. how you resist to power attempting to dominate you is the second part of the problem.

        So I repeat and confirm that if an individual loses all pride it’s his problem, if he abandons his own dignity it is his problem, not that of a “society” which would have its own existence independently of the poor : we are the society. And I won’t mistake dancing naked for a free service or a few views/clicks with the requirements of life : air, water, food.

        Ethics is not a political problem but an individual’s choice. Virtue is not the identity of the poor and weak nor is vice the characteristic of the powerful. Maybe am I fed up of what is excessively a political leitmotiv here in France and perhaps elsewhere, at least in Europe. “Take your responsibilities to start with, assume yourself, study, think, work and if you still are at the same point after that you may start to consider the legitimacy of a cry, that of a baby or that of revolt. Not before” do I often repeat. When I see what people do of their privacy I’d almost applause those big corporations making their business on the back of idiots and/or lazy, irresponsible individuals. But when those sheep moreover start complaining that the culprit of their problems, of their privacy invasion are the wealthy, the society, capitalism …. I get, how to say… annoyed. To put it mildly.

      2. Yash said on February 24, 2023 at 7:37 am

        Well that will always be the case – individuals having the choice to do what they want and refuse what is being thrown at them. But these things only work well only upto a certain extent in developed countries and to lesser extent in developing countries. I don’t think Ukrainians would be scratching their heads over Telegram privacy policy. It works there, most are using it. In current circumstances that’s what matters. Not a pesky privacy policy.

        And so when it comes to privacy I’m always conflicted about user’s negligence towards it because it isn’t about data exploitation or other things. It comes to simple fact of being human. If I’m walking down a street and I heard an artist singing a good song, my first instinct would be to stop and appreciate the hard work of that artist. That’s same on internet. When we humans want something we often visit that website straightway or download a software/an app even if it is not good for privacy. Why? well what matters? A privacy policy or end result of getting what you wanted.
        If I want to attend a football match and that stadium requires a smartphone with QR to track every movement, make digital payment then what matters most? Watching your favourite team or your ideology of nah I’m cash only folk?

        The line of privacy isn’t always straightforward and these big corps know this so they place their products on certain levels of society that it is impossible to do anything meaningful without getting your privacy violated.

        My approach – I do what I love and feels naturally attracted towards. But I also check if I have options available – better options available whether it is software/hardware and which I can run without too much extra effort. If available then great, otherwise look up in the sky feel fresh air and get on with life.

      3. Tom Hawack said on February 24, 2023 at 11:51 am

        Education in the sens of knowledge as well as the environment (peace, war, urgency) certainly influence (and perhaps even determine) one’s priorities in the ratio efficiency/privacy. Lack of knowledge though likely far more than urgency : less conflicts than ignorance. This said, not as sure that Ukraine is a developing country than it is at war.

        To bounce on your analogy, if privacy, security were to prevent curiosity and a natural (one’s “instinct”) move to discovery then of course the problematic would be different, we’d be in the scheme of discovery/risk rather than efficiency/privacy. But discovering is one thing, not taking into consideration the implications of one discoveries is another : if you return to the place where you’ve spotted a great street artist playing Paganini like a devil where simultaneously you got your wallet borrowed by a pick-pocket then you have a problem, not in returning but at least in having been captivated to the point of loosing awareness. That’s my point, basically : either avoid that risky place or put your money in a dedicated belt rather than in your wallet, but REACT. Seems to me too many people just prefer hanging around Paganini’s interpret whatever they get stolen as a side-effect so to say.

        How to disagree with your approach, I think we’d have a general consensus here. Now the point is to know what our “critical limit”, our “opportunity cost’ is, once we are aware of the consequences of efficiency, efficiency considered as our degree of satisfaction : when do we opt for privacy regardless of our satisfaction, regardless of a product’s, a service’s efficiency? I believe the limit is unfortunately excessively in favor of our satisfaction rather than of our privacy. I’ll end by returning to the beginning : education and urgency are two essential parameters, indeed.

  2. NA said on February 23, 2023 at 9:02 am

    Just as I suspected, it’s an “industry association.” “Regulatory Capture” is more likely from these “independent” groups than any good faith attempt at “privacy” and “universal standards.”

  3. Anonymous said on February 23, 2023 at 6:15 am

    Let’s hope a few compromising photos of key politicians are taken and leaked onto the internet beforehand as a reminder why privacy is needed.

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