Is it OK for Google to know all your secrets? In and out of Smart Home systems

by | Jan 13, 2020 | Smart Home | 0 comments


Digital screen on a wall outside a bedroom.

Smart home systems bring not only the conveniences of one’s home but also an intense espionage. So let’s dive into the nuances of smart home tech, how it came to this point, and why you will or will not want these devices in your home.

Podcast version

Smart home systems and devices have become a hot-button issue in technology lately.

It’s no secret that all of these smart new doodads report on everything we do to faceless intelligence agencies, AI bots and adtech developers who are constantly trying to find new ways to sell us everything from dog food to LASIK surgery. After all, there’s this joke among technicians that while giggling over asking Alexa various questions and playing your child’s favorite songs, the developer says “My only technology at home is a 1995 Powerbook, and my child is playing with a rock.”

After all, who doesn’t want a coffee machine you can control from your phone? Being able to lower the blinds without rolling out of bed or having an entire network card where you can link your smart mop can turn you into pancakes? This is the kind of shit we dreamed of seeing The JetsonSearch Futurama! And as these smart home systems grow more sophisticated, more and more people want them: generated smart home sales nearly $ 16 million in revenue in 2017 and is expected to hit more than $ 27 million by 2020. Alexa, OK Google and other smart speaker / home assistant hybrids represent a profit from this sale, but other smart home technologists fine-tune thermostats, security monitoring systems and you can not forget things like smart kitchens… and bedrooms.

When deciding whether to bring one for your home, you may be thinking only of the conveniences without considering the intense amount of espionage these devices do. I mean, if you just sneeze in front of your phone with Siri on, there’s a very good chance you’ll be bombarded with cold medicine ads.

But let’s dive into the nuances of smart home tech and how it came to this point and why you will or will not want these devices in your home.

Understanding the Internet of Things (IoT)

IoT words and icons are displayed on a tablet.

Before isolating specific risks and benefits, it is a good idea to become familiar with how these devices actually work.

What ultimately drives your intelligent home technology is IoT or the Internet of Things. This umbrella term simply refers to a whole lot of interconnected computer devices that can connect to objects, humans, animals, machines that are not computers, and other devices that do not require further human-computer-to-computer interaction to perform the desired function. . For example, you can buy a Wi-Fi-controlled slow cooker and then download an app to your phone to operate it while at work. Crock Potter and the like were originally designed to be for 6-9 hours at a time, but what about the soup recipe that only needs 4 hours, then it just needs to be kept warm until you get home? Now you can use a mobile or web app to tinker with the device setting even if no one is home to change it. IoT in action. A “stupid” Crock Pot would require additional human interaction to get the setting changed or the device turned off so you don’t get home where your soup is like that.

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Burning on a copper pot.
Road tar: that’s what’s for dinner.

The applications in IoT are positively infinite. It raised the question of “just because we CAN put technology, it means we ought to? ”Which is often asked by the Internet of Shit, a national Twitter treasure.

Uh, fuck YIKES.

But before we had IoT, we had X10 technology, which was first used by Bill Gates in the late ’80s after his debut in 1975. Do you remember those “clap” commercials from the’ 80s and ’90s? ?

This is where the infamous clapper, the clapper came from. The X10 sent 120 kHz pulses through the home’s electrical systems using programmable sockets to simply turn devices on and off. They have come a long way since this “1” and “0” binary function and are controlled by clapping, as visual and touch-based controls and voice recognition are predominantly how smart home technology is implemented today. Because the X10 was only one-way communication, the two-way X10 eventually became the staple of smart home tech, even though only the rich could afford it at first.

Thanks to mesh and other newer technologies, the two-way X10 is being phased out in favor of the Z-wave and Zigbee, so we can eventually get the robot butlers who can cook for us and we don’t have to clap for them.

So where do the risks and benefits come in?

We can save money and energy because smart homes track consumption

Close up of water heater

Smart home devices allow you to remotely control them anywhere. If you left the air conditioner or light on while you were not aware of it, you can check the app that controls these things, tell you how much energy is being consumed, and / or if the device is still on. You no longer have to suffer from surprising energy bills because you can turn these devices on and off remotely.

This is great for both your wallet and the environment! The ability to clearly track your energy consumption in real time can also help you figure out what times of day and year you are more likely to be hit with high bills. Tracking my use of air conditioners helped me figure out that I would be better off packing my laptop and camping out in the mall or Starbucks if the library’s AC power was destroyed on burning days.

A big downside though? If there is a power outage and / or an internet outage where your home is, you are screwed. While it means that at least all of these things will be turned off while you are away, it also means that controlling the smart Crock Pot will be completely futile and you will definitely come home to cold, unappetizing mushrooms that makes your average plane slip like a freaking 5 star Michelin meal.

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Unfortunately, other people can access your home’s devices

The concept of an internet troll: a smiling man in a hoodie.

It does not even take an ingenious hacker or hardened cybercriminal to get into smart home tech. Anyone who has the password to your devices can do some serious trolling, like the nightmare buddy you were desperate to get rid of, the sibling where it’s more than just rivalry, or a violent ex-partner.

You know how much it stinks when it depends on how the water heating system and plumbing are set up where you live, someone turns on the dishwasher, then your hot, relaxing shower turns into icy needles that tumble down your face? Imagine that, but with your ex getting mad that you happily make the mattress mambo without them, and they have gradually turned up the thermostat since you got home until the place feels like a volcano exploded inside a sauna to the point that to wallpaper begins to peel.

Often this is solved by just changing the passwords of the devices when these situations arise.

IoT can be a handout for the disabled

Handicapped woman playing guitar.

Because so many smart home appliances are remotely controlled or can be controlled in other ways like voice recognition, it makes them life-changing for people who have mobility issues, chronic pain and / or motor-related disabilities.

There is often this latent ability when someone rings the alarm bell about how technology is making us lazy. The person who waves about this is clearly not disabled, has never been injured or recovered from major surgeries while living alone, or has had to care for a loved one who is ill or disabled but who wants to be independent.

The ability to control various aspects of your home from your phone has made the lives of millions of disabled people better. If you have too much pain to turn off the light from the bed or have difficulty operating other devices manually (for example, if they are located in places where they are difficult to reach from a wheelchair, or while holding a mobility aid such as crutches) or a walker), smart home systems are a great blessing to help people with disabilities live independently.

We can not always control problems with accessibility with actual floor plans and structure due to sky-high renovation costs, and disabled people are more likely to face adversity associated with disruption from retrofitting. However, since smart home systems and IoT frameworks are within the control of the user, it goes a long way to giving disabled people the freedom and power to be independent.

Smart homes simultaneously prevent burglary while facilitating them

Burglar

If the former partner or former roommate has your password, all you have to do is change it to prevent your home from becoming an ice rink in the winter if you did not attend on the friendliest terms. But when it comes to home invasions, there are some odd nuances if you have a smart home system.

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On the one hand, smart home systems can tell us if we remembered to lock doors or windows. If you have smart locks, you can lock them from your phone just like the remote-controlled crock pot or air conditioner. Smart home security systems are ultra-modern today, it’s not like the spotted black and white security camera footage from olde, where only the perimeter is monitored. Using apps, you can also see your perimeter in real time both far away and inside your home.

However, smart homes have become a primary feeding ground for hackers to take advantage of unsuspecting homeowners.

All that is required is to use a public wi-fi connection like a coffee shop and take advantage of apps that have low security to violate much higher levels of clearance like the actual home you live in. Remember to blip about how many millions the smart home industry brings in, and all the horrors and joys that Shit Internet showed us?

This is called an “attack surface”. When everything from your coffee machine to a light switch, all the way to tampons and salt shakers can be controlled via Wi-Fi, it has amazing and fun effects, but also some incredibly scary that opens a Pandora’s box that is similar to being face punched by dingoes with razor blades to knuckles. Because when hackers have a huge attack surface to work with and they are all points with incredibly low security, this lets them glide easier than a tree frog between your door hinges.

You have to be careful with these things because there is a reason why technologists’ children play with rocks and Barbie dolls from the 90s. They are capable of scary shit, that’s why.

If you still want to equip your home with these things, it’s worth hiring a security consultant to go through your home and tell you how to prevent digital and literal burglary. Do not be too dazzled by convenience and shiny novelty, though some of these conveniences make life easier for the elderly and disabled along with the busier lives we live today. Step carefully when deciding what should and should not have a blue tooth.






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