If your smart home could talk

The old cliche “If these walls could talk…” is taking on new meaning in the world of the Internet of Things. Smart walls that actually talk aren’t on the market yet. But your smart home is capable of listening, remembering and divulging more about you than you may have imagined, explains researcher Charles Givre, a data […]

The old cliche “If these walls could talk…” is taking on new meaning in the world of the Internet of Things.

Smart walls that actually talk aren’t on the market yet. But your smart home is capable of listening, remembering and divulging more about you than you may have imagined, explains researcher Charles Givre, a data scientist at Booz Allen Hamilton. (Yep, the same company that employed whistleblower Edward Snowden.)

In a talk at the Make Data Work conference in New York, Givre described what IoT devices Nest Thermostat, the Automatic Car dongle and the Wink hub learned about him as he used them as designed.

His conclusion?

“‘Smart’ devices collect and broadcast a lot of information beyond what you might expect. In aggregate, this information can reveal a great deal about the device’s owner.”

This information includes:

  • Your Facebook and Twitter handles
  • What other “smart” devices you have in your home and when they were connected
  • Your home’s location
  • Your internet service provider
  • When you are home
  • All the trips you take in your car (depending on your privacy settings)
  • Possibly your religion (if you, like Givre and Walter from The Big Lebowski,don’t roll on Shabbos“)

Givre pointed out that most of the information is transferred securely but is stored in the cloud. Anyone who has access to your email address and password could reach it all.

At this point, smart homes are rare enough that it’s probably more convenient for thieves to physically stake out your home to note your comings and goings. But given the explosion of smart home technology, it’s just smart security to make sure your important passwords are unique, strong and unable to be guessed by anyone. This basic step — and thinking ahead about securing your smart home — is the best you can do, now that you’re aware just how much your smart home knows about you.

The makers of IoT devices also need to do due diligence to protect the sensitive data their devices are collecting — especially since government regulation isn’t erring on the side of consumers privacy.

“The Federal Trade Commission put out a report this year with best practices about how companies should notify their customers about data retention,” ProPublica‘s Lauren Kirchner reports. “Device makers say that customers can opt in or out of sharing their personal information with developers and third-party apps.”

So your smart devices may be talking to others without you even realizing you have the choice.

“If these walls could talk…” shouldn’t you at least have a chance to decide whom they talk to?

 

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