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Imagine the scenario. You are away on holiday but your home remains a hive of activity — an electrician has to come in to fix the lights, the neighbour has to come in to feed the cat and a friend will come in to leave a pint of milk in the fridge in time for your return.
Rather than giving out multiple sets of keys, it might be easier to install a smart lock. These can be opened remotely via a mobile phone and are often monitored by a camera and sensors. Depending on the lock used, the owner may also be able to give other people permission to access the property.
The market for these locks is increasingly crowded. Yale, a traditional lockmaker, has a range of smart locks. Samsung also makes them and last year Amazon launched Amazon Key in the US.
One of the aims of the new technology is to allow people to receive deliveries even when they are not at home. At a stroke, it removes the tedium of waiting in for hours for a scheduled delivery. “Smart locks are undoubtedly most popular within the US and, perhaps surprisingly, the Korean market,” says Josh Waites, smart locks product manager at Yale. “As the majority of smart home companies originate from Silicon Valley, American adoption has stemmed from there.”
Europe is further behind in adoption, says Mr Waites, with the UK approximately three to four years behind the adoption rate in the US.
Insurers have, in general, been wholehearted adopters of smart technology in the home. They see great potential for connected alarms, smoke sensors and leak detectors to cut the number of incidents in the home and so the number of claims that customers make. So far, though, smart locks are not high on their list of priorities despite the potential benefits.
Jenny Trueman, head of connected homes and product innovation at insurer Direct Line, says: “We are looking at technology that speaks to fire and water. We are also looking at sensors on doors and windows, and at cameras. We are focusing on preventive technology. Smart locks may fit in at some point, but we haven’t got there yet.”
Neos, an insurer that specialises in homes with connected devices, has also focused its efforts on types of gadgets such as motion, smoke and leak detectors that can alert users remotely and mitigate risk of damage and burglary.
However, says Ms Trueman, research suggests people remain wary of smart locks: “They are worried about the risk of hacking.”
Such worries are not unfounded. Two years ago, researchers at the University of Michigan found that they were able to hack into a smart lock by programming a new PIN code.
At the time, Atul Prakash, a professor of electrical engineering and computer science at the university, said: “The idea is to improve the safety of your home and to allow you to monitor what is going on inside your house . . . Unfortunately, this [exposes] potential vulnerabilities.” He added that consumers should have “some pause when considering deploying these kinds of technologies”.
Late last year Apple had to fix a flaw in its HomeKit system that could have allowed people to hack into locks.
Smart lock manufacturers say that security is their top priority. “At Yale, we develop all of our systems with security in mind,” says Mr Waites. “All data are encrypted and we also employ third-party penetration testers to conduct regular security assessments and tests to ensure our smart locks are secure.”
Some in the industry point out that many people already take enormous risks by leaving traditional keys under the doormat or above the door.
Nevertheless, insurers are wary of offering cover for users of smart locks. Phil Thorn, head of direct home insurance at Hiscox, says that there are parallels with the luxury car market. “A lot of them have moved to electronic key access. We have seen spates of claims where people have developed ways of hacking into them, so it is something to be aware of.”
Clients also seem wary. “We don’t see many customers asking about them,” says Mr Thorn. “We don’t ask any specific questions about them, and we don’t price them any differently. We would pay any claims if someone hacked into a smart lock and broke into the home.”
Ms Trueman says that Direct Line does not ask customers questions about smart locks and nor are clients telling the company that they have had them installed.
That may well change over time, but Mr Thorn says that lockmakers have to address the concerns over hacking. “I think Yale and the others have to work to convince the public that they are safe and secure.”
Whatever the pros and cons of smart locks, Michael Costonis, global insurance practice leader at consultancy Accenture, says that insurers will have to learn to work with them.
“The question isn’t whether insurers are happy or unhappy about smart locks, it’s whether they can adequately respond to growing consumer adoption of a technology that presents them with opportunities and risk.”
He adds: “The way insurers used to understand the risks inherent in a property and its ultimate usage can be fundamentally changed as homes get ‘smarter’ . . . insurers have the chance to rethink their products and services to take advantage of these technologies.”