Courtesy Landmark Properties

With many colleges and universities going virtual for the fall semester, students are nonetheless packing into the 41,500 beds across the 70 communities owned by Landmark Properties, booting up and logging in to wait out the pandemic online.

“We’ve been tracking Wi-Fi utilization, and some properties might need some equipment upgrades or internet service provider changes so we can do traffic prioritization for Zoom calls,” says Landmark vice president of technology services Katie Campbell of the surge in bandwidth consumption as schools begin to take classes onto the popular video conferencing app. “But with students it is always going to be something. Yesterday it was Xbox and Netflix, today it’s Zoom.”

As Campbell prepares community and enterprise networks at Landmark for the 2021 school year, the one thing she’s least worried about is jeopardizing the data privacy of Gen Z residents. When it comes to personally identifiable information, enterprise software vendors have largely alleviated operators of data safeguarding.

“Our staff never touches or sees a Social Security number,” Campbell says. “All of that personal data flows directly to the property management software web portal. It’s not even on our servers, so the most we’d sacrifice in a data breach would be some proprietary marketing info, not the 80,000 socials of our residents and their parents—that would be reputation suicide.”

Indeed, student housing operators, who still house the vast majority of Gen Z renters just hitting their early 20s, are less likely than ever to house the personal data of those residents, and show high confidence in the software providers upstream that do.

“Comprehensive security with data encryption and the property management system storing it off site has become common practice,” says Richard Roos, chief operating officer of Venterra Realty, which owns and operates 17,000 units across 60 properties in Florida, Texas, and Georgia. “It’s clear the industry is trying to keep that data secure, and, in general, people are increasingly being intentional about it.”

Courtesy Landmark Properties

But beyond the Social Security numbers and credit cards linked to the leasing application, Gen Z often sees data privacy as currency that can be leveraged to up-level their lifestyle. As the first digital natives who have never known a world without the internet, Gen Z renters show a savvy streak when it comes to trading some data exposure for an enhanced and immersive customer experience.

From where they are to what they are doing to who they are doing it with, Gen Z is used to navigating the real world even as they are networked into a real-time virtual matrix of GPS-enabled location services, voice and facial recognition technologies, and activity and mobility tracking, as long as it all comes with a payoff.

“Gen Zers are generally more free about how they share access to data,” says Roos. “They are not careless, but they are willing trade off privacy for a more immersive experience and provide information that allows them to interact with your product in a way that suits their needs and provides them with more value.”

From booking time in the gym to controlling access gates to keyless door entry, package services, and thermostats, faucets and light switches that are all connected to the internet, Gen Z is actively buying into technologies that also help property and asset managers boost efficiencies.

“Part of the reason to implement any technology is to optimize my operations,” says Kabir Seth, director of development and operations at San Francisco-based Presidio Bay Ventures. “We’re combining connected community software with a smart shutoff valve to ID abnormalities in water consumption, and connected devices and beacon technologies are providing a view beyond occupancy monitoring to provide detailed data on gym and study area usage that can help inform design decisions, too.”

Courtesy Landmark Properties

As a distinctly selfie loving generation, Gen Z also seems less wary about cameras and community video surveillance, particularly if it provides a heightened sense of safety and security. “We’ve moved to a new system that has people monitoring camera feeds in real time 24/7,” says Fred Pierce, president and CEO of San Diego-based Pierce Education Properties. “We can manage how many people are in the fitness center and track a package all the way to the door. These are all areas that are progressing, and we’ll evaluate to see whether or not they work out in the long run.”

Back at Landmark, Campbell and her team have been looking at new camera services that incorporate facial recognition but have decided to first deploy dynamic VLAN networks that basically segment community bandwidth to provide each resident with individually secure Wi-Fi that recognizes all of their devices and follows them from the apartment to the clubhouse to the pool.

“Gen Z is a lot less private in that way than the generations who came before them and were sensitive about being seen online. They tend to put privacy on loan for convenience and entertainment,” Campbell says.

And while this youngest of renter cohorts are likewise adept at things like logging on to a VPN, managing two-factor authentication, and spotting phishing emails and malware, they expect a high level of security in place in order to let loose and immerse themselves in community technology.

“Yes, they are interested in their own cybersecurity for sure and are more familiar with the risks in an online world,” says Pierce. “But as much as they’re willing to trade privacy for a premium experience, there is an expectation that you are protecting that.”