SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY

A major home appliance maker says hacking concerns are overblown

BY Michael Hill, Correspondent |

Thirteen big-name makers of home appliances operate in New Jersey and are competitors in the multibillion-dollar space. But all speak the same language when it comes to describing features they avoid.

“Early on when there were so-called smart appliances there were a lot of gimmicky things out there,” said John Taylor, senior vice president of LG Electronics.

What to expect? Furniture-like designs so that appliances fit in a home, complement a room, and smart innovations to make products do what they’re engineered to do by a simple touch, not just of the appliance, but remotely or through connectivity to a smartphone or tablet. The overall goals: giving consumers a higher level of comfort and convenience.

“Our goal is simply better living,” said Yoshiaki Uchiyama, director of product marketing for Sharp Home Electronics America.

“The features in our products are becoming more and more practical. For instance, if you’re having a party tonight you can go on your cellphone and tell your refrigerator to make some more ice,” Taylor said.

“As an industry, I think one of the biggest challenges we have is to make this experience, especially in the connected space, seamless. The integration easy because, again, because we have been incredibly spoiled. Things just work,” said Midea America President Kurt Jovais.

The home appliance manufacturing industry is well aware of the potential dangers of smart appliances being hacked.

“We have a defense-grade security platform called Knox that we took from our mobile phones. And because we have that in our mobile phones, we’ve transferred it to all of our home appliances and all of our connected devices,” said Jennifer Cetta, vice president of government relations for Samsung Electronics USA.

“Data security is a problem. It’s a little bit, probably an overblown problem. If you really think about how people use their kid’s birthday on their password for their email, for their bank, for their credit card, for their brokerage account and it’s all the same password. People are very, very careless. That’s the big concern. Getting hacked into on your refrigerator? Probably a lesser concern. However, it’s a barrier for consumer uptake. So as manufacturers, our job is to knock down barrier after barrier after barrier, so we take it exceptionally seriously,” Jovais said.

The Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers met in Long Branch. It’s the home district of Congressman Frank Pallone who chairs the House Energy and Commerce Committee that covers the industry and issues like energy efficiency, privacy, cybersecurity, and what Pallone calls new vulnerabilities. Pallone says for too long the burden of privacy protection has rested solely on consumers and Congress needs to shift some of that. He says it’ll make for loyal, confident consumers for years to come.