Thinking about buying an IoT device this Christmas? Here’s what you should be looking out for

December 15, 2016

IoT devices are growing in popularity and are set to account for a large proportion of Christmas sales this season. However, the interconnectivity of devices is both the primary appeal of IoT, and its Achilles’ heel. Indeed, IoT devices have far too often made the headlines throughout 2016 for having inadequate security features in place, and falling foul of cybercrime. For this reason, it is important to do your research before you buy, and adopt user best practices once purchased to enjoy IoT as it was intended to be experienced.

If you are planning to invest in an IoT device this Christmas, here’s how to buy wisely and use wisely.

1.  The device

If you’re reading this article, the chances are that you have already got an inkling of exactly what kind of smart tech you want to get your hands on this Christmas. However, if you are still undecided on the nature of device, brand, model or operating system you wish to purchase, there are several key factors to take into account. Firstly, what kind of device do you want to buy? Spanning wearables, smart homes, travel, healthcare, toys and much, much more, there are many different devices out there. Whichever product you go for, be sure to undertake thorough research before you buy.

2.  Privacy

With the Amazon Echo and Google Home (destined to be two popular Christmas gifts) ‘listening’ for their ‘wake word’, and many devices now automatically tracking your location, steps, movements and even heartbeat, it is more crucial than ever before to know what information your device is collecting about you, and where that data is being stored or sent. You should be able to enjoy your IoT devices without taking risks with your privacy, and there are a number of factors to consider when it comes to data protection for IoT devices.

(a)    Collecting

Knowing what data your device is collecting about you is crucial. This information can be found in the settings and privacy section of your device, and the results of your investigation may be surprising. Further to checking what information is being collected is knowing why. Is it essential for your device to know your location? Will the device work if you opt-out of this service? Is opting-out possible, if not, why not, and if so, how easy is it to do so? It should be noted that IoT devices depend on a certain level of access to your private information. However, knowing exactly what is being collected about you and whether or not this can be altered will help you to better manage your personal data.

(b)    Storing

Ideally, your device will only store the minimum amount of data needed for the device to function, for the minimum length of time it is needed. If you discover that your device will be storing large amounts of your personal data for a significant length of time, depending on the type of device you are using this may be a cause for concern, and you should consult the manufacturer or developer about why this is the case. Where your data is being stored is also important. Is it stored on the device, or sent to the Cloud? Cloud-based storage is common, but can prove riskier if there are no access and data management controls in place. It is also important to check whether or not you will be contacted by your service provider in the event of a security or data breach.

(c)     Sharing

Just as important as where your information is stored is who will have access to your personal data. Whilst IoT devices are premised on interconnectivity, not knowing where your data is going, or how securely it is being transferred can leave you vulnerable to cyberattacks. End-to-end encryption is a must for IoT devices, in order to secure your personal data. This is something you should be able to check with the manufacturer or developer prior to purchase.

3.  Security

IoT devices have far too often made the news due to fundamental security holes, and as such, customers should be particularly aware of the security features (or lack of) that are in place for your devices. Before buying, check what connectivity protocols and security keys are in use. This may include checking the device’s settings, and whether or not your device’s Wi-Fi, Bluetooth or hotspot connection could be leaving you open or vulnerable to cybercrime.

Once purchased, there are several key ways you can protect your device, and your personal information.

– Ensure that you have the latest firmware and software updates installed on your devices.

– Consider setting up an additional network on a different subnet in your home for smart home devices. Running these devices on a separate network will help to safeguard your other devices such as laptops, desktops and mobile phones in the event of a cyberattack.

– Change all default user names and passwords, and create new, strong passwords for your device.

4.  Value for money

We all love a bargain. However, when it comes to your privacy and security of your personal data, devices, networks and even your home, you need to be sure that a cut-price device isn’t cutting corners with anything else. Cheap IoT devices may promise to do the job, but in order to lower costs, compromises and omissions may have been made in regards to security, privacy, and the quality of manufacturing.

With devices that will be using, collecting and storing personal data, and being linked up to your computer, laptop, phone or home, you should only purchase when you are certain of the credibility and security of the product you are buying. Purchasing from manufacturers and developers who take security seriously can lower the risk of purchasing a faulty, vulnerable or poorly-made device, but even then, be sure to do your research before buying to ensure you are getting true value for money.

5.  Interoperability

Another consideration to bear in mind when purchasing IoT devices, especially if you are hoping to use several IoT devices in conjunction with one another, is how it will connect and communicate with other devices. Interoperability for IoT devices has yet to be standardised, and as such, it can be difficult to ascertain whether or not your devices can be used in conjunction with each other. You can usually avoid this problem by checking beforehand that the API of your desired product is compatible with those of any other devices you may possess. Far too many customers encounter problems with interoperability during set-up: by checking before you buy, you can avoid this pitfall.


IoT devices are intended to be enjoyed. By choosing and using your device wisely, you can help to ensure that you experience IoT at its best.

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