The ascension of man over fridge

Comments I’ve seen indicate that many are concerned about the advent of IoT. Specifically, misgivings are about the security and privacy of data. Historically, the information technology sector has not had a good track record with security and privacy, and people are worried that more connected devices will only exacerbate the situation.

IoT will evolve. To gain the traction it deserves, IoT needs to alleviate these security and privacy fears. One way to do this is to give users more control over their own data. Let’s look at hypothetical near-future scenarios involving a smart refrigerator to see how this can be accomplished.

Jack buys a new smart fridge. When the fridge is delivered to his home, Jack simply touches his phone against the fridge sensor, which transfers his home Wi-Fi settings to the appliance. Setup is now complete with one Touch-&-Go and the fridge can now communicate with devices on the home network, and it can communicate over the internet. Jack is registered as fridge admin user, and can communicate with the fridge from his phone – either though the Wi-Fi router when at home, or through the cellular network when away from home. As admin user, Jack has full control over fridge data and settings.

A message pops up on Jack’s phone app: “Fridge would like to connect with the manufacturer, Samsung, for warranty and maintenance purposes. Allow Yes/No”. Jack chooses “Yes” which means that easy-to-install parts such as the fridge bulb, are automatically delivered to his home if needed.

Jack connects the fridge to his local preferred supermarket supplier.

Jack adds his wife Jill as a fridge user with buying privileges. Jill is now able to see fridge data and setup buying rules. One of the rules Jill establishes is for milk: Order 2 litres of milk as soon as stock goes below 1 litre. The supermarket provide free delivery for customers whose fridges have re-supply rules. Jack has also connected the fridge to his diary so the fridge knows not to re-order supplies when he goes away on extended holiday.

The fridge notices that Jack and Jill have diarised a dinner invitation on Saturday night. The fridge recommends recipes based on food stocks and dietary restrictions of guests, and reminds Jack to refill the ice tray. The fridge also recommends a supermarket re-order for their friends’ favourite brand of beer.

The important thing is that, as admin user, Jack is the gatekeeper of his data and privileges. He can change privileges at any time. Jack chooses not to permit his fridge to send updates to his social network friends. He also chooses not to send updates to his insurance provider (even though there is a reduced premium offer), medical practitioner or personal fitness coach. The fridge can also communicate with the bathroom scale and Jack’s cycle exerciser, but Jack chose not to for now. However Jack has given his fridge permission to generate calorie intake reports, and to compare his monthly food shopping prices with those at competing supermarkets. Jack also finds it a useful cooking aid when food packaging communicates recommended settings with the microwave and oven, and the fridge display shows a video demonstration on how to cook a dish.

Jill loves that the fridge reminds her to discard specific items that are past their use-by date. She also loves that the display panel on the door rotates through her photo library avoiding the need for untidy photo magnets.

There has been a lot of talk about smart fridges for many years. Technology has now caught up with dreams, and smart fridges are a reality. However they will only become commonplace if the user has control over data privacy and confidence around security.

Many thanks to IoT-expert Lee Noonan for collaborating on this article.

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