How to Buy Dumb “Things” Smartly

I love food, but I’m not a foodie – nor do I want to be one. I also have a love/hate relationship with Nutrition Facts labels. I love the label if it supports my then-current objectives – e.g., low carb, high protein, low fat, low sugar, you name it – and I scoff when it tells me otherwise. Despite how I may feel, though, I can depend on this label to provide me with objective facts from which I can make subjective decisions.

Moreover, this one-size-fits-all label shows no partiality to any food, person, or diet/lifestyle. No matter who you are or your diet preference, you can rely on Nutrition Facts labels to guide you on your eating journey.

What if this same principle was applied to the Internet of Things?

The Journey From Dumb to Smart is Painful

Back in late 2015, I began the personal journey of making my dumb home “smart.” It was in the process of being fully remodeled, so it was an opportune time. As an IoT advocate and evangelist, I wanted to roll up my sleeves and experience this DIY IoT project first-hand. Could I have hired someone to do this, or better yet, buy a packaged home security/automation system? Absolutely – but where’s the fun in that?

Over the course of that next year, I did a gross amount of research coming up-to-speed on “smart Things.” Not only did I need to understand the products themselves, but I also needed to learn in more depth about all the ways these Things could talk to each other – i.e., wired, WiFi, cellular, Z-wave, Zigbee, Bluetooth – and how to keep this network of Things secured. While many of these Things can be controlled by a hub/controller and/or an app, I was not keen on accessing multiple hubs and 20+ apps to control my home. That’s just plain dumb.

I will save the details of this journey for another time, but for now, it’s important to understand that while I am happy with how my smart home (with 100+ connected Things) turned out, the journey was painful. It took a significant amount of time, and while time was on my side (because of the constant delays in the remodeling project), I will argue that no consumer has this kind of time or interest to tackle a sizeable IoT/smart home project – at least not all at once.

It boils down to: I love cool Things, but I don’t want to put on my Geek Cap every time I want to enjoy these things. If you can relate, you may be interested in my proposed solution.

IoT Facts: The Smart Label For Our Things

Using the Nutrition Facts label as inspiration, I propose that the packaging for all consumer Things include an IoT Facts label. Here’s a mockup:

And here’s a quick explanation:

  • Overall Thing Rating: This 1-5 star rating would come from a government agency, e.g., the FTC or FCC in the U.S.
  • Expiration Date: The date the rating expires, which admittedly would be cumbersome to manage and maintain
  • Security: How secure is this Thing? More secure = more stars
  • Privacy: If applicable, how well does it protect your data? Was Privacy by Design principles used?
  • Connectivity: How does this Thing connect with other Things? More flexibility = more stars
  • Interoperability: How well does this Thing play with others? More open = more stars
  • Standards: How well does it follow relevant industry standards?

How would it work? Let’s say security is one of your hot buttons. With these IoT Facts labels, you would ideally want Things with a rating of at least 4, maybe 5, stars for Security. Anything less, you would want to understand where it lacks in security and determine if you could live with it as-is, or create some workaround (if that were even possible), or abandon it altogether.

Just like with Nutrition Facts labels, the IoT Facts label would help a consumer understand how a Thing measures up to agreed-upon standards and measures, helping her make a more informed decision. The ratings would give her a reliable place to start, depending on what she deems important.

As for the manufacturers, these labels would help hold them accountable for what they are producing. Today, we are seeing too many (shoddy) Things hit the market, only to be abandoned by the manufacturer shortly after. Ideally, these manufacturers would strive for an overall rating of 4 or 5 stars on every Thing they produced. It would just be good business.

How To Be Smart Without a Label

I’ll tell you what: I would have loved to have these IoT Facts labels slapped on all the products I considered for my smart home. This label would have saved me much time – especially as I compared products – and it would have provided me with information I couldn’t find myself. All at a glance.

However, we’re not there yet.

In the meantime, here are a few guidelines to consider as you add more Things to your life:

  • Do your research. Seriously, don’t skip this step. You can use the IoT Facts label as a template. For each Thing, understand how it addresses: security, privacy, connectivity, interoperability, and standards. Yes, it is time-consuming but vital during these early stages of IoT.
  • Think like a nerd. The IoT is making nerds out of all of us. If you are not sure about something, don’t be shy about asking someone. This site,, is a great place to start.
  • Protect yourself. This discussion is no longer reserved for the security geeks and privacy freaks in the backroom. It impacts all of us. Thank you, IoT. I plan to delve into this important topic more fully in my January 2018 post.

As makers, entrepreneurs and manufacturers continue in this mad race of making the “dumb” Things in our lives smart, consumers need help making smart decisions about these Things. The IoT Facts label is a start. What do you think?