Discovering trusted systems are breaching your privacy is a transgression hard to forgive...

Security and home automation, alarms and video surveillance, IoT and analytics – if you’re an installer thinking about alarm installations and dreaming of building a monitoring bureau, the market has never been more complicated, more overloaded with jargon, more fraught with risk.

INSTALLERS who finally came to grips with NBN a couple of years ago are now having to deal with connecting homes and businesses communicating via naked DSL, with no copper connections, wireless comms only – 3G in the country, 4G in bigger towns, and 5G – whatever that actually means – hovering under the horizon, its loom beckoning us forward to that shimmering smart city called Future.

Dotted over the landscape are big manufacturers styling themselves as IoT solutions providers (complete with cloud back-end), alarm panel manufacturers busy shoe-horning cruddy cameras into prehistoric single pyro $1 PIRs and wherever you look many of these same builders are plugging low cost electronic security systems to consumers using twee brand names well fit for social media, and all the while lecturing you on values that are so last century. Values like trust and loyalty.

We live in unusual technological times, where there’s more to worry about than cockroaches in your customer’s dual techs – times in which broader matters – like customer privacy – have real commercial and social meaning. We’re watching Facebook have a little meltdown over customer privacy this month. It’s been interesting because in a real sense, privacy is also a key element of the future for the security industry, yet most physical security pros are still not across IT security. It helps that manufacturers are simplifying their cybersecurity settings and talking about the importance of education, but it looks like chasing a train that’s leaving the station.

Cybersecurity is a nebulous and evolving monster whose full measure of threat to business and personal privacy we are yet to truly see. Talking about the exponential possibilities and challenges of cyber security in a 5G world earlier in the month with an IT expert of irritatingly operational mind-bent, the technicalities of the conversation quickly scampered down one of dozens of adjacent rabbit holes, never to emerge into light. Whether it was last gen-smart phones seconded as security controllers for an Oort Cloud of cool devices, the threat posed by leakage of data from face recognition systems placing people who prefer anonymity exactly where they happen to be, the travails emanating from a future in which the biometric identifiers of customers are stolen and customers presenting those identities are banned from key life functionalities – small things like banking, buying fuel, and travelling by rail or air.

And it’s not as if these issues lie in the realm of science fiction. The confluence of relevant technologies – equally, the affordability of relevant technologies – is making them real right now. Some of the labelling around this topic is annoyingly opaque – Smart Cities are meant to converge data from the inputs of multiple systems – IVA-empowered public surveillance solutions (conveniently shorn of privacy protocols), audio sensors (that can’t hear private conversations), weather warnings and loads more – all these are combined to give city managers situational awareness. Smart buildings and homes will have lighting systems, air conditioning systems – even coffee machines – whose shared machine learning allows them to conform to your authorised or personal preferences.

Behind these projections are our personal datasets swirling about in the cloud, which as we know (tongue presses firmly into cheek), will never, ever be leveraged by corporations or governments to facilitate tighter control over citizenry, or for the grimy purposes of commercial gain. There’s a real issue here because as security professionals, we never want to be installing solutions that customers will one day come to believe are nothing more than spies. As an industry, security people must be trusted and worthy of trust if they want to become the axle of smart solutions.

In this exposed harbour we need to drop our anchor because this last point is the really important one. Consider that trendy U.S. alarm monitoring company MONI, which abbreviated its name from the old-fashioned sounding Monitronics last year, has just changed its name to the antique-sounding Brink’s Home Security. According to Brink’s president and CEO, the reason was that “for 150 years the Brink’s name has been synonymous with trust, safety and security”. MONI’s president readily agreed. “A strong brand is critical in the new era of the smart home,” he said.

While the move is in part a relatively affordable way to become a household name, what’s most important is that MONI’s business has been re-born as a trusted household name. Trust is a bigger deal than many security people realise – research indicates security professionals are viewed with trust – a positive association that applies to security installers, too. It’s a trust that carries considerable value from the point of view of the entire industry, a trust that should never be thoughtlessly put aside.

How does this tie into a connected IoT future? It ties in through the additional responsibility that comes with gathering information, with knowing intimately more about customers than they ever consciously realise – all the power of video, face recognition, biometrics, wider IVA parameters and geo-location combined with tracking domestic movements, power usage – all this data gathered and stored, and if you’re a trustworthy business operating on behalf of trusting clients, never, ever harvested.

Conversely; for large ISPs, online retailers and telcos; getting into smart homes is not about protecting clients but about knowing them. As the furore around Facebook’s sharing of personal user information builds, it’s clear the wider public would look upon the leveraging of personal domestic data with an intensely jaundiced eye. We can protect customers’ IP-based security and automation systems using smart routers armed with encryption, firewalls, secure DNS and the like, but protecting their privacy in the digital future may turn out to be the most valued protection of all.