Does security knowledge make you comfortable or more paranoid?

A new Deloitte survey suggests that younger consumers are more aware of mobile security and data risks than any other segment. What do they know — or not know?

System Protected computer screen security

With security, the more you know, the more comfortable you are — to a point. This is not to suggest that seasoned security pros trust that most security technology (as deployed) is secure. On the contrary, they typically do not. But they have a realistic sense of the overall security picture, knowing that nothing is ever impregnable and that as long as the security approach used is better than most alternatives, that's a pragmatic and comfortable way to go.

What brings this to mind is a report released last week from Deloitte examining quite a few mobile issues. Between the healthy number of participants (49,500 respondents across 31 countries) and the historically high quality of Deloitte reports, this is one of the more exhaustive recent reports on mobile. Note: The Deloitte report was a refreshing change of pace from the mountain of vendor-created research reports, which typically are thinly veiled attempts to answer every question with variations of "and that's why you should send us large checks."

One part of the report asked what consumers see as the biggest threats to smart-home technology. Although I would have answered, "My greatest fear is that I will do something that angers an appliance and they all will conspire to kill me," that wasn't one of the choices offered.

The choices that were actually offered: It is easier for someone to hack into the home system and cause damage; technology may fail, leaving the home vulnerable to damage or theft; smart-home technology reveals too much about your personal life; it allows your usage to be recorded or tracked; it allows manufacturers of smart products to use, sell or distribute your household usage without your control; systems could be set incorrectly in error, leaving the home open to damage or theft.

What I thought was interesting was that younger consumers (ages 18-24) were more afraid of almost every one of those possibilities than the two other age groups (25-34 and 65-74) examined. The only exception was the first option ("easier for someone to hack") and even then, the youngest slice merely matched the oldest segment.

The answers:

It is easier for someone to hack into the home system and cause damage

18-24 – 53%

25-34 – 42%

65-74 – 53%

Technology may fail, leaving the home vulnerable to damage or theft

18-24 – 50%

25-34 – 41%

65-74 – 48%

Smart-home technology reveals too much about your personal life

18-24 – 35%

25-34 – 31%

65-74 – 33%

It allows your usage to be recorded or tracked

18-24 – 40%

25-34 – 29%

65-74 – 33%

It allows manufactures of smart products to use, sell or distribute your household usage without your control

18-24 – 36%

25-34 – 27%

65-74 – 35%

Systems could be set incorrectly in error, leaving the home open to damage or theft

18-24 – 41%

25-34 – 33%

65-74 – 37%

This gets us into the interpretation. Why were younger consumers seeing the technology security/privacy threats as greater challenges? Was it ignorance-based fear, making them afraid of high-tech issues that they don't understand? Or was it the opposite, that they understand the systems better and therefore appreciate more the very real data dangers involved?

My take is that there are indeed huge dangers involved with all of those areas, but they are matched or exceeded by leaps in convenience, flexibility and control. That is a profoundly personal choice, colored by the consumers' attitude and perspective on life.

The oft-asked question "Is this technology safe?" reflects a lack of appreciation for these systems and there is almost always only one correct answer: "No." But nothing in life is safe. It's all a compromise.

The report also touched on quite a few other mobile issues, including how for both shopper and associate, ignorance on mobile payments is severely hurting that area.

On self-driving cars, the report found that 32% said that they would eliminate the stress of driving, 26% said they would allow for multitasking while driving, and 23% said they would make it OK to be drunk in the car.

I am going to guess that almost none of the people answering that question had ever ridden in a self-driving car. People who have report much higher levels of stress, due to their feeling of not having any control. Although such vehicles generally give the human driver the option to take over in an emergency, the fear is that the human won't have enough time to regain control in a true emergency. And that is especially true if the humans are not fully focused on the road.

That brings us to the other questions. Scenarios like multitasking and being drunk behind the wheel only increase stress — and danger — as it makes it more likely that the driver won't notice a problem quickly enough and that their reaction times may be too slow to deal with it if it does happen. Oh, look: my stress level went up again.

There was a small surprise in the smart-home area. Some 38% of those surveyed said they would pay more for smart-home appliances. The conventional wisdom has been that advertisers and manufacturers and search engines would pay for the data access, allowing the consumer to enjoy the upgrade for free. If people are going to pay for this service, that is interesting.

On a pure smartphone hardware issue, the survey looked at what people did with their old smartphones after upgrading. Almost 60% of consumers did not seek any money for their old phones, and only 21% did. So what did they do? Most kept it as a spare, gave it to a family member/friend or threw it away.

Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.

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