Imagine an IoT with ideal comprehension

For the future, Stacey Higgenbotham predicts,"We'll see a lot of retrenchment, and a lot of justification efforts, to justify costs," which includes, "IT staff time, and security risks."
Written by Tonya Hall, Contributor

Stacey Higginbotham, host of The Internet of Things Podcast, stresses the importance of content mattering in your at-home IoT devices. She tells TechRepublic's Tonya Hall, "Context is going to start mattering more than it does today."

Watch the video interview above or read the full transcript below.

Tonya Hall: Madame A or Mr. G? And do you need your own digital-privacy officer? Hi, I'm Tonya Hall for ZDNet and joining me is Stacy Higginbottham. She is the host of the Internet of Things podcast, which is found at StaceyonIoT.com. Welcome, Stacey.

Stacey Higginbotham: Hi! Thank you, Tonya!

Tonya Hall: So, you have a background on Internet of Things as well as all things technology and you have this site, StaceyonIoT, as I mentioned. What do you do there?

Stacey Higginbotham: I do a podcast, a newsletter, and write stories all about the Internet of Things. It's a big topic.

Tonya Hall: It's a huge topic, and it's getting bigger and bigger. It was also a very big topic at CES, which you just returned from, and you escaped the CES Flu, which, congratulations on that.

Stacey Higginbotham: I was very excited not to get sick for the week after CES.

Tonya Hall: But you've had a lot of interesting developments, and what you found at CES; including what you think of the next level of Internet of Things. Talk a little bit about what your biggest takeaway was from CES.

Stacey Higginbotham: Sure. So everybody was talking about Voice. It was the most exciting part of CES, but I found myself ... maybe because I've had Voice in my house for like three years, I found myself thinking, "This is good from a user-interface perspective, but it's terrible still, for actually making your home smart-perspective." So I'm starting to look now for companies that are actually making it easier to automate things.

So instead of telling ... I call him Madame A on our show, because I don't want to set off anyone's Echo, but instead of telling your Echo or Google Home, "Turn on living room lights." The living room lights actually turn on when you enter, and they turn on at a setting that's appropriate for the time of day and what you'd like to be doing. That's where I think we're going.

Tonya Hall: I've heard you say that you're personally switching from Madame A to Home? Why is that?

Read also: Google Home Max review: Sound this good comes at a price

Stacey Higginbotham: Partially because I have to ... is it eat my own dog food? It's not my dog food, but I have to eat all the dog food, everyone's dog food, so I can tell people how it works. But mostly, it's because Madame A is really terrible at answering questions that I ask a lot. So, I'm constantly like, "Hey, can you put mangoes in the fridge?" And Madame A is like, "A mango is a fruit." And Google can actually tell you those kind of things, or "What's the market cap of this particular stock yesterday?" Google is a little easier to talk to, but there's a lot of hitches there.

Tonya Hall: And you said ... I've also heard you say that we're really moving away from the focus on UI, Voice; essentially, to just being smarter. What do you see happening in the future of Internet of Things?

Stacey Higginbotham: Context is going to start mattering more than it does today, and I think what's really interesting ... there is things like location in the home, so that might be via Bluetooth, it might be using something like Aura, the Wi-Fi reader thing; it could be using computer vision to say, "Stacey right now is in the kitchen. She's with her daughter and it's five o'clock. What kind of things usually happen then? She usually turns the light on because she's going to cook." Those kind of things should start happening automatically in my home, as opposed to me ordering Madame A to do it.

The other thing is; neither Google nor Madame A, is really good at letting you chain together a lot of things. So I use a program called, "You Know Me," and I've used a program called "Stringify" to basically create scenes, big settings. I don't know what to call it. I have a yoga setting when I tell either of my devices to do yoga, my blinds come down to make it dim, my lights come on in a very dim setting, and my Amazon television comes on because the video I do yoga to is on Amazon. So all of that happens just with one command. That's the kind of stuff that we need to start thinking about making easier for consumers.

Tonya Hall: And I've heard you say that you have a preference of the two. In fact, one of them is a little more complicated to use than the other. Talk about your favorite, and why you like that.

Read also: Alexa

Stacey Higginbotham: For Smart Home, it is definitely Madame A. She's ... she's much better, she's easier to use, she has more devices, and she's so much better at music. Oh my gosh, I don't understand why Google cannot get music right. You ask Google to play anything for you, and I swear, half the time I get karaoke, the other half of the time, I get weird ... cover bands? I don't even know what they are. But, again, Google's better at answering questions.

In my life, I'm sitting here, right now, I'm trying to go all Google and my family is hating me because we're struggling to get things turned on. Last night, we asked Google to turn on the harmony, so our TV turned on, and then the harmony voice comes in, and she's like, "I've turned your TV on." And then my daughter was like, "Wait! Was that Alexa? What's happening?" So there's a lot of confusion happening here. So, I guess I didn't tell you my favorite. I'm sorry. I'm like, "Oh! My favorite is Google for answering questions, and Madame A for managing my home."

Tonya Hall: I think that's the dilemma that we're in right now, is there's really no perfect solution, and Internet of Things is trying to get there, but there's a lot of excitement coming forward. But then those things collect data, right? So that moves me to the next topic of GDPR, and what we need to know about that, moving forward, and what businesses need to know, and to be prepared. What is GDPR?

Stacey Higginbotham: It is a mess. The EU put in the general data ... I always screw up the acronym. General Data Protection Regulations. So these were enacted, and they go into effect on May 25, 2018 So you're going to see a lot more about it in the first part of this year. Basically, what it is, it protects the privacy of European Union citizens. So if you collect data on those citizens anywhere, you need to protect it, and there's a couple rules that you have to follow. But the biggest ... And most of them are like, "right to be forgotten" type rules, a lot of them are very basic rules.

But, the challenge and the big scary part about this, is if you mess up, it costs you a lot of money. So, when you're found in non-compliance, it can cost you up to four percent of your annual revenue, or $20 million, or actually, 20 million Euros, which is a lot of money. So people are taking this very seriously, and I think what we're going to see is, after this goes into effect, we're going to see a lot of citizens of the EU start to file lawsuits against companies around their data.

I think we're also actually going to see, if you're a journalist, this is cool because you can actually start pulling your data from these companies to find out what they know about you. I think there will be some really interesting stories written on that, that will influence consumers and what they buy.

Tonya Hall: It's exciting and scary; I think especially scary for businesses who run a very lean IT department, but are in the tech business. You can't ... This isn't a responsibility that I think you can just push on your IT guy. You really probably need to think about somebody that specializes in this. I think this is going to be a big concern, especially for smaller shops. Do companies need to hire a digital privacy officer?

Read also: Amazon's Alexa suffers widespread outage

Stacey Higginbotham: Well, they actually talk about this in the regulations, and they say that you don't ... Sorry, they say you should have one if you're a public authority. So companies, this does not apply to you. Organizations that engage in large scale systemic monitoring, or organizations that engage in large scale processing of sensitive personal data. But those terms aren't actually defined very well.

So, if you're Google, do you have large scale personal data? I would say "Yes." You know all of my searches. If you're a connected lock-maker, is the fact that you've locked your door, is that personal? I don't know. So those kind of companies have to hire a data protection officer. Everybody else can hire somebody, like a consulting firm to come in and say, "Hey, GDPR. We'll fix it for you."

Tonya Hall: I think that is going to open up a whole new line of business of people that are trying to help you understand and protect you, and potentially from being sued by somebody across the pond. So, are IT shops going to start questioning their Internet of Things strategy?

Stacey Higginbotham: So, not necessarily just as a result of GDPR, because that's a whole other ballgame, but I think in the last, probably three years, we've seen a lot of companies do these pilot IT projects. If you're a retail store, maybe you're putting thermometers in your refrigerator cases and remotely monitoring them to make sure the freezer case doesn't go above a certain temperature and all the ice cream melts, because that's terrible.

So, those things have been happening for the last couple of years, but I think the ROI on those, not all of the ROI's are coming back in a way that is productive for companies. I think they're really reconsidering how they do this, and they're also being faced with huge security risks. So now they're like, "Oh my god. I don't actually know if I want to connect all of my grocery store fridges. That could be terrible. What if PETA gets mad at me stocking steaks and hacks my system? Those kind of things are going to force them to reassess what they're doing, how they're doing it, and how they value it.

I think we'll see a lot of retrenchment, and then a lot of justification efforts, to justify the costs, not just in dollar terms, but in IT staff time, and security risks.

Tonya Hall: Well, on behalf of everybody on the internet, I want to thank you for staying on top of these topics so that we know what's going on, and we can listen to your podcast and follow your website. If somebody wants to connect with you, Stacey, if they have more questions about whether it's GDPR or whatever, Internet of Things, how can they do that?

Stacey Higginbotham: They can find me @gigastacey, G-I-G-A-S-T-A-C-E-Y on Twitter or just go to my website and click "Contact". That's www.staceyonIoT.com.

Tonya Hall: I highly recommend that you do that and follow her on Twitter. Also, check her website out, because she's got her podcast and everything she writes on there. You can also catch her on this week on Google. Super smart lady. You can also follow me. You can follow me right here on my interviews on ZDNet or TechRepublic, or find me on Twitter @TonyaHallRadio, or find me on Facebook by searching for the Tonya Hall Show. Until next time.

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