This week's IoT news
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Stacey Knows Things
What does a lack of Internet privacy mean for IoT?
by Stacey Higginbotham
This week, Congress eliminated the Federal Communications Commission's ability to govern what Internet Service Providers can do with their consumer data. This means that ISPs can now track and sell your web browsing data on both your wired and wireless broadband connections. So what will this mean for the internet of things?

To understand, let's first talk about what ISPs can see. Your broadband provider runs software that can see where you go on the web and the type of applications you are running. This deep packet inspection software was a source of high drama almost a decade ago, as ISPs rolled it out with plans to use it to track web browsing so they could insert ads into sites that people visit. 
ISPs can see that you have a Wink hub, but not what you do with it. 
ISPs also use this software to understand what types of traffic are running across their network. This lets them see trends like a rise in Netflix streaming as opposed to peer-to-peer movie sharing sites. It also lets them see what devices are on your network. When you install a device like a Nest thermostat, for example, the traffic from that thermostat will come back and forth from Nest servers. Based on that traffic pattern ISPs can assume that this particular customer owns a Nest. 

Because ISPs know your IP address and can associate it with your physical address, many of the installed devices on your home network are indelibly tied to your name. 

So the ISPs knows you have a Nest, a Wink hub, a Chamberlain MyQ garage door opener, and now if they want they can share that information with marketers. What's more concerning is whether or not an ISP can see the specifics of your home IoT devices. Do they know when your motion sensors are triggered or what temperature it is inside your home?

I asked Brian Knopf, who is senior director of security research & IoT architect at Neustar, about what ISPs can and can't see. He agrees that ISPs will be able to see the destination of your traffic and make guesses based on that, but said further details would depend on the type of encryption the company making the connected product used.

He wrote in an email, "As for the question about motion being detected or a camera has started recording, it's purely based on how that device works. If you have a Dropcam/Nestcam, they are recording all the time. The ISP would certainly see that data is going from a camera to Google. As for whether there is motion, it would depend on what kind of analysis they are doing on the traffic. I don't think they would see this, but couldn't guarantee it."

I asked Nest if ISPs would be able to detect motion and if it encrypted its data, but Nest did not return my request for comment. Other companies did. Wink, which makes a smart home hub, confirmed that it encrypts all of the data coming from its device.

Wink CTO Nathan Smith confirmed Knopf's thinking. Wink emailed me the following statement, "The only data an ISP would be able to report is whether or not a Wink user was communicating with one of our servers. An ISP would not be able to see the underlying state of smart devices (if they're on or off, for example), which devices are connected to the Wink Hub, or actions taken in the Wink app (a Shortcut firing, etc). That information is encrypted between the Wink Hub/Wink app and our servers - ISPs have no insight there."

A WeMo spokeswoman also says that communication between WeMo devices and Belkin (it owns WeMo) are encrypted. However, she also said that Belkin was exploring adding VPN protection to its Linksys routers. But until that point, a consumer would have to use their own, and if they go that route it can mess up certain geographic specific functions, such as television services.  Linksys does offer VPN routers for the Small Business.

In the near term, ISPs probably aren't harvesting device data to try to sell to someone who owns a connected oven cooking magazines or retargeting them with the ubiquitous Blue Apron ads, but they might. And as connected devices become more personal (think medical devices or even connected sex toys) ISPs will have access to even more delicate data.

At that point, regulators might see value in getting involved. Brian Peters, a partner at Washington DC lobbying firm Franklin Square Group, says regulators and Congress are probably not really aware of the data that connected devices can share. 

"Much of the ISP privacy debate has very simply focused on email and more traditional basic web activity, and I don't think it has gone to the depths of understanding IoT traffic," Peters says. "But we will keep having this conversation and it will become more intense because there are so many devices that are part of the fabric of our daily lives."

Peters' firm represents several tech companies that have IoT products, so he's watching this area closely. But he brought up another point. Historically, ISPs have looked at technology firms and tried to emulate parts of their business. But they haven't always succeeded. 

It's true. ISPs have tried advertising against user data before. They've also tried to build app stores, messaging apps, cloud computing businesses and more. All without success.

So, as it stands, try to find a VPN and look for connected devices that encrypt your data from the device to the cloud. 
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Startup Profile: Tempow has an idea to make Bluetooth cool again
Tempow, a French startup, has created technology that allows you to stream audio to multiple Bluetooth speakers. Tempow promotes it as a wireless splitter for listening to music and watching TV, but the applications of the technology are wide-ranging. 

The basic tech is software running on a smartphone (tablets, PCs and televisions are in the future as well) that allows the device to send audio to any number of available Bluetooth devices rather than just one. The company's initial use case is the ability to turn several Bluetooth speakers into a larger audio system. Other use cases could allow consumers wearing different pairs of Bluetooth headsets to stream a TV program in two different languages if the TV program supported it.
Tempow is headquartered in Paris with a business team in San Francisco. 
CEO: Vincent Nallatamby
Tempow makes software that manufacturers can add to their devices. It lets those devices stream data to multiple Bluetooth speakers in sync. 
Founded: 2016
Funding: $500,000
I met two engineers from Tempow at Bluetooth World this week, and was excited by the possibilities.

For example, a tour guide could stream their commentary to everyones' Bluetooth headsets in a museum (in the appropriate language). In education, students who are hard of hearing or require a translation could get the information streamed directly to their headset. 

The base technology doesn't address things like translation. All it does is let the device stream to multiple speakers. But companies can add such features on top of Tempow's tech if it becomes popular. 

An immediate challenge for the company is that the software doesn't work on iOS devices because Apple doesn't let just anyone have access to the Bluetooth radio on its handsets and tablets.  

A future challenge is that the company might become a victim of its own success. Its technology sits on top of the existing Bluetooth radio standard. At some point, the Bluetooth Special Interest Group might see the value and appropriate the tech into the standard (or find another way to accomplish a similar goal). Should that happen, and if Tempow doesn't have a huge base of manufacturers already using the tech, it could lose out. 

Still, I like the way the team of 10 is thinking, and love the options such an advancement on Bluetooth offers.
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This week there were two big stories in the internet of things. The first is that Google Home has expanded the number of companies it works with, adding Rachio, Wink, August and more. The other story is that Congress has repealed rules that prevented ISPs from selling your personal data. This will open up consumers’ search history to ISPs and marketers, but Kevin and I discuss what it means for your smart home devices and data. We also discuss IKEA’s new smart home products, Kevin’s poor Z-wave lock experience and hacked commercial dishwashers.
Ikea's new connected lighting system. 

This week’s guest is in charge of a smart home platform that aims to take over a huge number of homes in the US. Daniel Herscovici is the head of Comcast’s Xfinity Home program, and he has some big ambitions. We talk about the purchase of iControl, why Comcast isn’t keen on Zigbee and why Comcast isn’t sweating standards. It’s a fun show.

Hosts: Stacey Higginbotham and Kevin Tofel
Guest: Daniel Herscovici of Comcast
SponsorsSamsung ARTIK

Another AgTech startup gets funded
Arable raises $4.5 million
Feeding the world will only get harder as the population grows, arable land declines and water becomes a more expensive (and scarce) resource. Investors, sensor-makers, drone companies and data scientists believe they can help.

A number of companies large and small are investing in ways to take more precise measurements of soil, weather, and plant conditions and map them to data that will help increase crop yields. San Francisco startup Arable is the latest.

Arable has raised $4.25 million led by Middleland Capital’s agriculture technology fund and S2G Ventures. The company's hardware + insights approach reminds of what Australian company The Yield is doing. 
The Arable Mark device measures rainfall, water stress, microclimates, canopy biomass & chlorophyll. The device is solar powered and also contains Bluetooth, cellular or a Wi-Fi radio depending on the farm's needs.
News of the week
Samsung packed a smart hub into a Wi-Fi router: This week Samsung announced the Connect Home Smart Wi-Fi System which is basically a mesh Wi-Fi system that packs the smarts of its SmartThings hub. It also has the radios. Bluetooth 4.1, WiFi, Zigbee and  Z-wave to be exact. No word on pricing or when this new box will be available, but anything that eliminates a hub is a win in my book. But because there are still half a dozen other hubs I have to support, I am glad to see the router has multiple ports on the back. (Engadget

Microsoft opened a European IoT Lab: Microsoft has opened an IoT lab in Munich to round out its other IoT labs in Redmond, Washington and one in Shenzen, China. Germany, with its Industry 4.0 effort and many industrial conglomerates such as Siemens and Bosch, is a good place to see what's bubbling up in the industrial IoT.  (Seattle Times)

Ericsson's new plan: Ericsson has struggled to stay relevant as the telecom equipment market has changed. It has made several smart moves such as becoming a network service provider for carriers and investing in the internet of things, but shareholders are not content to see if that pays off. So the company said this week that it will book between $1.8 billion and $2.4 billion in charges and restructure its business. It will also shift its IoT strategy “from a systems-integration-led approach to a platform- and solutions-led strategy." It always seemed odd to me that Ericsson was pursuing a systems integrator approach, since many of its telco customers are doing so as well. It looked like Ericsson was competing with customers for business.  (Fierce Wireless)

Verizon almost hit $1 billion in revenue from IoT devices: According to Chetan Sharma, Verizon's 2016 IoT revenue neared $1 billion, a number AT&T achieved in 2016. In 2017, it will become the third global operator to pass the $1B mark in the segment. Much of AT&T's IoT revenue comes from cars. By the end of 2016, AT&T had almost 12M cars connected to its network, probably the most by any operator. (Chetan Sharma)

IoT network company Filament raised $15 million: Filament has a unique distributed networking technology that uses blockchain and other protocols for low power radio networks. They are especially useful in sparsely populated places where cellular signals are few and gateways are inconvenient. The company has raised a second round of funding from Intel Capital, Flex Lab IX, JetBlue Technology Ventures, and CME Ventures.  (Medium)

GE is retraining its workers for smarter factories: Robots may take your job, but corporate training programs can help. As new technology changes the nature of the work people do, companies should help their workers adapt. AT&T has been working with Udacity to help retain its workforce as its networks evolve from physical to software-defined technology. Meanwhile, GE has just launched a program for factory workers to gain skills they will need in newly connected and intelligent factories. GE calls its program "brilliant learning," and it starts with online courses and then gets more specialized with in-person classes. (GE Voices)

Car makers vs. Silicon Valley: This story is a broad overview of how car makers (notably Ford) are screwing up their chance to own the high-value platform for connected vehicles because they can't get together and create useful standards. This, in turn, means developers won't flock to their platforms to build cool in-car services. Smart home providers should take note.  (The Register)

I thought this company was dead: Back in the heady days of 2014 when the smart home was exciting and a new platform emerged every month, Best Buy teamed up with a Kansas City startup to create the Peq hub. That didn't work out, but the company behind Peq software has raised $8.5 million and turned its underlying smart home automation software into Pepper. Pepper appears to be kind of like a white-label If This That offering, letting a manufacturers or service provider (a utility or insurance company would be an ideal client) connect its devices to others in the Pepper system. It is both an OS and a simple, tile-based interface for mobile or tablet apps.  (Kansas City Business Journal)

Four stories about robots taking people's jobs: Despite what Trump says about jobs coming back, the trend here is that those jobs are lost to automation. And more change is coming. This was a big issue this week. (NYT, TechCrunch, Buzzfeed, MIT Technology Review )

Siri and Alexa battle it out in hotels: Marriott is testing the Amazon Echo and Apple's Siri in a few of its hotels, but my big question is where the heck is Google Home?  (Reuters)

Want to hack your IKEA desk to work with Alexa? Here's a great tutorial. What's next? Opening the pod bay doors? (

First thoughts on Samsung's Bixby personal assistant: Samsung introduced its Galaxy S8 phone this week, which features Bixby, Samsung's answer to the Amazon Echo and Apple's Siri. Bixby isn't designed to offer answers from the cloud, but is rather aimed at letting you tell your device what to do. Apps also have to be written to work with Bixby, which doesn't sound terribly promising. (The Verge)

More Stacey: This week I wrote about cool Qualcomm tech for MIT Technology Review and wrote about Google Home's new partners for my own site. Oh, and I also added an events calendar, so send me your events. 

Stacey Higginbotham's weekly Internet of
Things news update and analysis.