There’ve been many exciting developments in the Internet of Things (IoT). 40% of South Africans now use at least one smart device, with smartphones being the device of choice. We use them every day to keep an eye on traffic and what the weather is doing, stay abreast of current affairs and manage appointments – all from the palm of our hand. We know what we are doing with our connected devices, but do we know what the devices themselves are doing?

The ‘Internet of Things’ refers to the interconnectedness of physical items like phones, televisions, and even entire buildings – that are embedded with technology that enables them to communicate via the Internet. This ‘second wave of the digital revolution’ as some have labelled it, raises concerns that must be addressed. Though not all televisions, elevators and buildings are smart (yet) – our devices must operate on secure networks if we want to prevent their interconnectedness from backfiring.

One network provider has been in the spotlight recently for charging subscribers tariff fees, even when the mobile data option is switched off on their device, and they are not deliberately connecting to the Internet. Dubbed ‘disappearing data’, this is the result of LTE technology keeping the device connected to the network, which is standard – but allowing valid user data traffic to pass between device and network, when it shouldn’t.

This is one example of how smart devices could be performing functions without their owners’ knowledge, which quickly becomes inconvenient and potentially quite expensive – but is avoidable. Such issues highlight the need for good reporting from network providers on what subscribers’ devices are doing on their networks, when – and why. As more devices become connected, issues like this will surely worsen. Operators need to be ready to provide usage statistics to their customers, who will request them. In the meantime, subscribers should be aware of their own data usage habits and understand that they could be using excessive data unnecessarily.