A year ago when the Internet of Shit account was spawned, it started as a personal joke: I was hearing a lot about internet-connected smart devices, but they all sounded like terrible ideas.
In recent times, however, weve seen a new slew of devices pouring onto the market with no real specific purpose, as far as anyone can tell. At first I was just making jokes about these things, but the situation is worse than I initially thought.
Many IoT devices will claim to improve your life, but really, theres only one aim: monetize the monotonous that was never even interesting to any at-scale business.
Ten years ago, if you had told people they could make millions off a specific coffee machine that would only take one type of pods, made by the creator of the machine, they might have laughed at youbut then Nespresso came along and ate the world of drink-at-home coffee.
Yes, it learns about your home, which is both good and well, slightly discomforting.
Now the same is happening with your every day gadgets, but in a slightly more sinister, under the surface way. Companies want to internet-connect your entire house in order to collect more data on you.
The opportunities are delicious for bloated internet companies: now a software company could know how warm your home is, what times of day are noisy, whether you have a pet, when you turn on your lights or if you listen to music while having sex.
Smart devices are sold as a way to improve your lifeand in many ways, they do to an extentbut it also means those gadgets are incredible troves of data that could eventually turn into Software-as-a-Service money makers, just like Nespresso did to coffee.
The problem with the Internet of Things is that the hardware is only one aspect. The makers need to keep servers running to support them, keep APIs up to date, keep security up to date and, well, pay employees.
Well get more and more services revenue because the hardware sits on the wall for adecade.
That, eventually, costs more than it does to actually sell you the device. Probably in less than the first twelve months of you using it. Thats not sustainable, and no Internet of Things company has found a better way yet.
If Nest wanted to increase profits it could sell your homes environment data to advertisers. Too cold? Amazon ads for blankets. Too hot? A banner ad for an air conditioner. Too humid? Dehumidifiers up in your Facebook.
To be clear, that hasnt happened yet but Nest already shares anonymous data with partners and Google just happens to be in the business of showing you ads for things. Its something that will eventuate.
Long term this will absolutely happen with the sheer majority Internet of Things devicesafter the shakeout when everyone realizes its fucking impossible to make money from online coffee cups.
I think I just threw up in my mouth alittle
As the market eventually saturates and sales of internet-widgets top off, you can bet that everyone from the smallest to largest vendor will look to whats next: the treasure trove that is everything it knows about you.
Many of the newest IoT devices are the types of household appliances you wont replace for a decade. Were talking about a thermostat, fridge, washing machine, kettle, TV or lightlong term, theres just no other way to be sustainable for the creators of these devices.
There is an alternative path that some could take: maybe Nest needs to increase its revenue, so it decides to charge a monthly subscription model for its thermostat. Now you need to pay $5 per month or itll lock you out.
The question then, is if youd pay for it? Will you pay for a subscription for everything in your home?
Maybe: if the device comes for free, with that subscription, and guarantees your data will be kept private but I suspect that many people prefer to own outright and simply wont care about the privacy compromise.
The future of your most intimate data being sold to the highest bidder isnt dystopian. Its happening now.
Take this article on AdAge as an example, that quotes the maker of an internet-connected fridge as saying:
We are trying to understand how to impact consumers lives in meaningful ways, Ms. Andrews said. It was interesting to see what people were doing with our productslike what time they are buying things and whenit is a wealth of knowledge.
I think you will see a move of brands starting to look at this space as a new revenue stream, she added. We didnt make a fridge initially to make a ton of money, but in a year or two, it can make revenue, absolutely.
Even Nest already came to this realization. Its founder, Tony Fadell, told Forbes in 2014 that Well get more and more services revenue because the hardware sits on the wall for a decade.
No shit, because your data is valuable perpetually since that thing sits on your wall quietly observing without you knowing.
Yes, now we know exactly what youre doing withit
I own a ton of these devices already: a Tado thermostat, Sonos speakers and Hue lightbulbs. It just kind of happened before I realized it.
Like you, I was sucked in by many of their marketing charms, like Nest, which promises it never stops learning to make your heating better.
When faced with this or a boring-old version, almost all of us think along the lines of You mean I dont have to fiddle with buttons? Sign me the fuck up!
But what are we giving away? Where is our data going? Who really owns our devices in this bold new future?
Before you buy into smart devices, consider this: nobody really knows the answer because they dont want to tell you. Its better if you dont know.