Alexa, please open the door

Submitted by acohill on Mon, 10/15/2018 - 10:01

More than twenty years ago, as the Internet became more common, some prognosticators began talking about the "smart house," where lots of household devices would be interconnected and make our lives one of ease.

At that time, I wrote a somewhat tongue in cheek article for a professional newsletter about a "smart house" gone wild, somewhat in the fashion of the Hall 9000 problem in the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey.

At the time, the few smart house attempts did not catch on, because the technology was immature and expensive. But now we find the Internet of Things is exploding, because the chips and software needed to put so-called "intelligent" into common household appliances is just a couple of dollars.

This article provides a good summary of the issues, and one example cited is a microwave that can be controlled by Amazon's Alexa. I've never had any issues "controlling" my microwave simply by punching a couple of buttons, and the idea that it is somehow "better" to have Alexa get involved strikes me as bizarre.

The core problem for me is that devices like the Amazon Echo (Alexa), Google's Home Hub, and Apple's Home Pod (Siri) are constantly listening to everything that goes on in your home and sending that information back to an unaccountable multi-national company that is monetizing that information, although Apple says they are not doing that...but they still have the data.

A secondary problem is that many "smart" home devices that use WiFi lack any meaningful security, so malicious hackers thousands of miles away can do things like use your security cameras to spy on you, turn household devices on and off, and could conceivably use video recorded on your own cameras to gain information on what you are doing for purposes of blackmail.

Many homes already have these always-listening devices installed, but there won't ever be one in my home.

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