If that’s the data-barter economy—give up your personal data and get convenient services in return—then we’re seeing the start of data as currency: Give up your personal data and you’ll be rewarded in actual dollars.
For many, that’s a freeing prospect. It imbues the murky data-exchange process with a new transparency, and gives consumers more agency in deciding what to offer up and what to protect.
“Privacy is really about the choice to share,” says Steve Grobman, the CTO of Intel Security. “The judgment of different individuals will vary greatly.” Indeed, smart homes will produce all kinds of data, from sensitive information about personal habits to general insights about energy use and consumer behavior. Putting dollar figures on individual data streams could help smart-home occupants decide exactly how much they value their privacy, and which elements they’re willing to give up.
But paying consumers to give up their privacy may not be particularly freeing for lower-income tech users. The practice essentially puts a premium on privacy: If you want to keep your data, and stay anonymous, you have to give up cash and deals. If this model plays out, a private smart home will be more expensive than one that reports back on its users.
Grobman says he imagines a tiered price model becoming popular. “I think that it’s reasonable to assume that some of those cost structures will be set up at higher price points, with higher degrees of anonymity and privacy protection,” he said. On the other end, lower-priced models could be subsidized “based off of access to data, as well as things like a long-term commitment.”
That’s kind of like what happened in Kansas City last year, when AT&T deployed its high-speed fiber Internet service to compete with Google Fiber. The service was priced to compete at 70 dollars a month, the same price as Google Fiber. But there was a catch: Opting out of AT&T’s “Internet Preferences” program, which recorded users’ browsing and search history, cost an extra 29 dollars a month.
Extremely high-speed fiber Internet access is, of course, already something of a luxury service, and so tacking on an extra charge won’t leave communities without an Internet connection at all. Smart-home devices, too, seem Space Age enough that they will likely be affordable only for well-off, early-adopting consumers—at first.
But smartphones were once a luxury and are now widespread, even among low-income people (some of whom depend on smartphones as their only Internet access). Gigabit Internet and smart-home technology will eventually hit the mainstream, too, and the pricing structures of privacy will affect how low-income users will experience these technologies.
Michele Gilman, a professor of law at the University of Baltimore, notes that many low-income people rent their homes. If smart-home technology becomes the norm, landlords may maintain control of the data streams that they produce—and could profit from them, too, Gilman says.