Orphan devices and solutions in the fast pace world of the IoT (Internet of Things): Have you really given much thought to this topic? For the purposes of this column, when it comes to orphan technology, I am basically going to address devices, platforms, and solutions that have been abandoned by their original developers for one reason or another.
There are a few reasons a technology may find itself abandoned by its original developer. In fact, we will also get into what users need to consider when developers move on and they are left with outdated connected devices. Let’s be clear, security is a big one.
As I noted on my radio show on Tuesday, the Revolv Hub a few years back was one of these technologies that quickly was abandoned. Here’s the scandal and the backstory.
The Revolv company came out with a nifty smart-home automation device for $300, and a lot of people bought it. At the time, Nest, which was has since been acquired by Google swooped in and acquired Revolv and its talented team. Unfortunately for Revolv hub owners, Nest decided not to continue to support the device. And, with relatively little notice, all of those Revolv hubs were left orphaned in people’s homes.
And this is one way we end up with orphan technology. As you can quickly see a company just moves on for any number of reasons. If you’re an early adopter, and you like to buy up the latest and greatest from startup companies, you may have also experienced orphaned technology when a startup goes belly-up. But then again, sometimes, orphan technology isn’t failed technology. Sometimes, technology is “abandoned” because it just doesn’t fit a company’s big-picture goals.
In our feature this month, we share a really great example of a technology that started in the R&D department at a big corporation, but it didn’t really fit in. Thankfully, it found a second life with a couple of outside entrepreneurs with great talent.
So what happens after the fallout when devices are abandoned due to mergers and acquisitions, bankruptcy, or a company deciding to “move on?” There are a couple of key issues.
The first is monetary, and it’s on the part of users. In the case of the Revolv hub, people spent 300 of their hard-earned dollars on this device, which eventually ended up being a paperweight.
The company offered a refund for Revolv hubs, and the FTC ended up closing the investigation it had opened after Nest announced its decision to brick the hub. But even after getting a refund, users had to go through the hassle of finding a new device or solution for their smart homes, which takes time and costs money. The whole debacle really had us all asking a bunch of questions.
The FTC even wrote a blog listing some questions IoT businesses should ask themselves when introducing and marketing smart devices, including things like:
1) Are you selling a device, a service, or both, and what are you telling consumers you’re selling?
2) Are consumers getting a fixed-term rental or subscription, or are they getting something they will own and can rely on for the life of the device?
3) Would reasonable consumers expect to be able to keep using the device—and have it be fully functional—if the company goes belly-up?
4) Could consumers keep using your device in the ways they would reasonably expect based on their experience with similar devices?
5) What did you tell consumers at the outset about the security you would provide for the life of the device?
The FTC nails it on the head with these questions. Which actually does lead to the second big problem with orphan technology: security.
When technical support, including security updates, fall by the wayside for an IoT device, users may be left out in the cold. They now own an outdated product that’s seriously vulnerable to security and privacy breaches.
Considering the vital functions some IoT devices perform—it makes you think connected vehicles, smart medical devices, and so on—vulnerabilities could put consumers’ lives at risk, not just their data.
Here’s the hard truth: There’s not a lot that can be done from a user’s perspective to protect yourself against orphan technology, unfortunately. It’s simply a matter of trusting your gut and having that common-sense gut feeling.
For instance, one smart move is to make sure you’re buying from a trustworthy and reputable company—keeping in mind “trustworthy” and “reputable” are very subjective.
But if you’re looking to minimize your risk, then go with established IoT companies that can look you in the eye and promise long-term support for devices.
With that said, however, we shouldn’t write off the startups in this space just because they’re less established. They’re just going to inherently have a bit more risk associated with them.
Also ask the company you’re considering as a provider what their long-term plans are.
If you’re about to some spend big dollars in an IoT solution for your business, this is well within your rights to ask. Ask what the provider’s long-term plans are for continued support in the event of a direction change, an acquisition, market movers, etc.
In these very volatile times, you need to think big and understand your options so you don’t find yourself in a giant rabbit hole. It’s only fair in this wild tech ride we all seem to find ourselves in nowadays.
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