Smart technology innovations are fun and exciting, but they can also be concerning.
The Consumer Electronics Show, an annual large-scale tradeshow, is taking place this week in Las Vegas. The Consumer Technology Association, the owner and producer of the show, describes the event as “the global stage where next-generation innovations are introduced to the marketplace.” The description is accurate given that CES “showcases more than 4,500 exhibiting companies” and includes a “conference program with more than 250 conference sessions and more than 180K attendees from 150 countries.”
At this year’s show, products and ideas for the smart home are taking center stage. There is a laundry-folding robot” called the FoldiMate that promises to put an end to the tedium of traditional laundry folding. There is a new wave of smart toilets, including ones that can link to music apps or Amazon’s voice assistant Alexa. Homebuilding company KB Home is even debuting a full-scale model smart home, the KB Home ProjeKt. The model home itself is in nearby Henderson, Nevada, but the dozens and dozens of smart gadgets integrated into the “home of tomorrow” will undoubtedly be a hot topic at CES.
Other smart home ideas and technologies already on the market aim to help homeowners enjoy homes that are environmentally responsible and connected to the services and products that make homelife more enjoyable. There are systems and gadgets to monitor air quality and temperature, change lighting in alignment with daylight and home usage, detect water or gas leaks, control appliances, automate pet care, notify police or alarm companies of suspicious activity, and ensure plants and lawns are watered at the right time with the right amount of water.
But with the excitement and potential also comes concern for the darker sides of the technology.
What could hackers learn about a homeowner if they gain access to or took control of a device? Many home assistants store credit card and billing information to make purchases with a simple voice command. Some devices store information about personal habits—when home occupants eat, when and where they sleep, and how many occupants are in the home.
Other devices control appliances like ovens and water heaters that could lead to serious damage if they malfunction or are misused. Smart cameras could be intercepted letting unauthorized users watch and listen in on what is happening inside the home.
It’s concerning to think that the technology we come to rely on to keep us safer and make life more convenient can come with unexpected risks and costs. But there are ways to help understand and reduce the risks.
- When possible, purchase technology from reputable companies.
Reputable does not mean that a company’s product won’t have a vulnerability or that the company won’t have concerning practices. But a company that has been in business for an extended period of time is more likely to commit to researching vulnerabilities and regularly pushing software or firmware updates as vulnerabilities are discovered. They may also be less likely to close shop if something does go wrong and they need to be held accountable.
- Keep apps up to date to make sure devices are getting the latest security features when they are available.
- Understand the privacy and data policies for smart devices and apps.
Some companies like Amazon and Google publish their privacy policies online and offer assurances their devices are not glorified wiretaps. Amazon also allows users to see what Alexa has recorded in the home and to delete recordings.
- Choose strong passwords and change them regularly.
- Regularly monitor credit reports to be aware of any suspicious or unauthorized purchases or activity.
Just because technology can be misused doesn’t mean we have to give up every connected device we have or stop being excited about the possibilities in the future. But by understanding the potential risks of having a smart home, consumers can make a more informed choice about whether the conveniences of certain devices or features outweigh the possible risks.
By Alexandra Tracy-Ramirez, HopkinsWay PLLC. | © HopkinsWay PLLC 2019. All rights reserved.