I’m one of those weird people who pays for newspapers, and regularly reads what the industry calls native advertising. These are articles superficially modelled on legitimate news, but are either paid for by a company, or supplied wholesale for reprinting. Compared to regular advertising and press releases where the writers have free reign, PR agencies need to employ a different skill set to emulate journalistic objectivity. Make it too lopsided, and people see right through it. That friction, and how well different companies manage it, is fascinating.

An established American telco sponsored an article in Forbes this month about about Internet of Things (IoT) devices. It opened:

When people think about the Internet of Things (IoT) today they’re often overly focused on the things—the devices that first gave the IoT its name. But like all things digital, the IoT is rapidly evolving from the very early days of simple sensors designed to help manufacturers automate their processes, to the wide-variety of connected devices that record our steps using our watches, and allow us to talk to people through our doorbells.

Was I the only one who just felt a shiver at reading that last point?

I’ve quoted the four subheadings that followed, with a representative sentence or two from each. Long-term Rubenerd readers can already guess, but can you see the obvious omission here?

Device intelligence is all in the eye of the beholder … It’s a continuum, with low-capability, minimally-connected devices on one end and highly-capable, multilaterally-connected devices on the other.

Strength in (connected) numbers … what makes a device “smart” isn’t the onboard compute and storage capabilities of the device itself but what it can do when it is connected to other devices and then to processing platforms that can act on that information.

How smart IoT works in real life … It is the combination of a low-cost sensor, high-speed network, cloud, and intelligence that would enable [example city] to cost-effectively deploy this technology.

The future of IoT will depend on expansive 5G access … trying to pigeonhole IoT as smart or dumb today kind of misses the point. It’s the connectivity and the platforms that tie all these devices together that give the future of IoT its power.

That’s right, in a thousand-word article the terms security, privacy, and even update are not mentioned once. Here are my quick thoughts for each of their examples:

  • Device intelligence is all in the eye of the beholder: Low-capability devices can be more difficult to update and keep secure given their low system resources, and highly-capable ones could easily be commandeered to perform nefarious tasks.

  • Strength in (connected) numbers: Botnets are built from swarms of insecure devices.

  • How smart IoT works in real life: Including all the privacy implications of tracking, and how that sensitive data is secured.

  • The future of IoT will depend on expansive 5G access: No, the future will depend on people being able to trust IoT. Trust is easy to lose and hard to regain once you haven’t taken security into account.

There are three possible explanations as to why these weren’t raised.

  1. They think IoT is intrinsically secure and doesn’t need spelling out. This position isn’t borne out by the facts.

  2. They think their audience doesn’t care about security. In which case, its their responsibility as a provider to inform people of it.

  3. They think security isn’t important, or less important than the synergised-paradigms they otherwise discuss. This is simply dangerous.

Native advertising can never pass as completely legitimate because, by definition, it can’t include thorough counterpoints. But acknowledging security is an important and underrepresented concern in IoT would already be a start, and I’d consider it a sign the industry is mature and responsible. A savvy company would take this angle and run with it as a key advantage of their devices and networks.