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Smart door locks in the US miss out on real privacy. This company proves it

The EU's privacy rules are good for American smart homes, too. That's something that Yale locks' brand, August, makes abundantly clear.


Smart lock company August is making its way to Europe, the Middle East and Africa with new products under a familiar name -- Yale, August's parent following a 2017 acquisition. With this international rollout comes questions about hardware differences, app use and more importantly, privacy. I'm at IFA 2019 taking a look at what August and Yale are bringing to Europe and what August's trip across the pond means for smart locks and privacy around the world. 

Read more: Everything announced so far at IFA 2019, Europe's biggest tech show

What's coming to Europe

There hasn't been much new hardware from August since it joined Yale, save for the Connected by August kit, which puts August brains in your lock and connects it to the August app. 

On Wednesday, August announced a European version of that Yale-to-August kit. The new Yale Access module works with Bluetooth the same way the US module does, with a slightly different "L" shape to fit inside European locks. There's also a Yale Connect Wi-Fi module to enable remote control through the Yale Access app, a user experience identical to what August app users see in the US.

Read more: The best smart locks of 2019

While pricing and exact availability aren't set yet, this system will give European Yale smart lock users something they've never had -- remote app control over their smart locks. It's a giant step forward for smart home enthusiasts outside the US. But as with any newly connected gadget, and especially one from a US company, it brings privacy questions to the forefront. 


The US version of the Connected by August kit arrived in 2018. 

Sarah Tew/CNET

Protecting privacy

Privacy is a big piece of any tech company's puzzle these days. With Apple recently announcing its plan to offer an opt-out option for Siri recordings, and rising concerns about privacy with Ring devices, consumers are paying more and more attention to what happens to their data and what goes on in the cloud. 

Because Yale already operates in Europe, it was the August side of things that needed privacy attention. Shortly after its acquisition by Yale, the company chose to err on the side of caution. I asked Darren Learmonth, CTO of Smart Residential at Yale's Swedish parent company Assa Abloy about GDPR, user data and what it's like to try to unify across all these fronts.

"Despite being located in the US, August has been GDPR compliant since April 2019," said Learmonth. "All our products, including Yale products that incorporate August technology, adhere to the regulations."

You can read more on August's specific policies on its site, but the company deletes personal data as soon as it's no longer needed to process a lock request and August's data service providers adhere to the Standard Contractual Clauses, guidelines approved by the European Commission.


Yale' European Access locks will now work with the Yale Access app and connection kit. 

Yale/Assa Abloy

Registered users in the US can review, update, correct or delete information in their profiles through the August app, though it may affect service. In addition to that, those in the EU or UK can exercise personal data rights like requesting a copy of their personal data from August's records, or asking that August stop processing their data. Beyond those behind-the-scenes policies, the August (or Yale) experience is nearly identical in all countries. 

Learmonth is a proponent of regulation. He noted that regulations like GDPR are a good start, but pointed out the need for something beyond the national level. 

"[GDPR] actually exemplifies a potential problem here," said Learmonth. "There is one set of regulations, but 28 regulatory bodies that interpret and enforce it. In California, we have CCPA [the California Consumer Privacy Act], and some states are considering their own laws. It is therefore possible that there will soon be 78 different regulatory agencies working with 51 laws. That's a very complex situation and speaks to a strong need for consistent universal regulation."

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Yale currently offers several smart locks and a line of DIY smart home security products in the UK, much like SimpliSafe (which also recently announced its own smart lock). The plan now is to fold in August's software to Yale's hardware, especially since uniform hardware across so many countries is nearly impossible.

"August's top-rated software was a key reason behind Assa Abloy's purchase of the company," said Learmonth. "Harmonizing hardware is a hard task. The many market regions in Europe, for example, have each got their own door locking technologies and differences."

Read more: 5 ways smart locks will change your life

The future of August

August's line of retrofit smart locks are easy to install and don't require replacing your deadbolt. You can keep your physical keys and still control your front door with an app and individualized access. We even gave the Smart Lock Pro our Editors' Choice Award for best smart lock.

The focus in Europe is mainly integrating August's software into Yale smart locks, August isn't closing up shop on hardware. There's plenty in the works for August smart locks in the US. But with an expanded marketplace, hopefully August, Yale and the rest of the smart home market can find a broadly applicable set of privacy standards to build around.