If you’ve integrated smart home technology into your home, it knows more about you than you think. The smart gadgets we are bringing in to make our lives easier and safer are actually making us less secure
Data collection exposes us to privacy breaches and cyber vulnerability–and yes, your smart home devices are collecting data on you. After all, that’s how these devices can be sold on the market at such an affordable rate ($30 for a smart speaker!)
Device manufacturers make their money by tracking and selling data on your bedtime habits, your media preferences, your diet, and more. Even scarier, most home tech manufacturers won’t reveal how this data is collected and how it’s shared.
Companies aren’t just collecting this data for fun: they are selling it to advisors. And what data are they collecting? Data about you, your children, and your house guests.
Smart Home Data Collection: What Are They Spying Home?
Have you ever been talking about something in your living room, only to see an ad on your phone a few days later? These “coincidences” may be just that–or it may be from a recording one of your smart devices picked up.
If you’re curious about what type of data your devices are likely collecting, we’ve got you covered. Here are some examples of the data your device manufacturers may be mining for profit:
Smart Television: Your smart tv has revolutionized the way you watch and stream. It is full of your favorite apps, and it lets you watch tv commercial-free and even stream the web. It knows how much time you spend watching TV, and it knows your favorite shows–and it’s telling all its advertisers.
Smart Lights: This smart technology promotes energy efficiency and safety. You can turn your lights home as you drive home from work, and make sure your lights are off whenever you are away. The technology behind this is collecting data on when the lights are turned off or on, and it can infer when you wake up, go to bed, leave, and return home using this data.
Smart thermostats: Did you know that your smart thermostat can collect data on your home’s climate and when people are moving in the house? Your smart thermostat can use this data to reveal to advertisers when you are home when you’re awake, and when you go to get a midnight snack.
Smart refrigerators: If you have a smart fridge, chances are it is collecting data on the food items inside them and how often they are consumed. It can use this data to infer your diet, how often you cook, and which foods you purchase most often at the grocery store.
Smart speakers: Your smart speaker knows a lot about you. It can record everything you say after the “wake word” and take data from connected devices and accounts. Your Amazon Echo and Google Home will collect your data without asking, connect your data to your identity, and store all your data indefinitely. It appears that the Apple HomePod, while not innocent, is the least of all evil when it comes to the three–your HomePod will collect data but it won’t connect it to your identity or store it forever.
Smart Home Devices: Pros and Cons
Despite privacy concerns, smart home technology aims to (and often does) make our lives easier. Check out some of the benefits of smart home technology here:
Safety: While it’s worth mentioning that smart home devices have their share of safety concerns, they also have the potential to improve your safety at home. You can turn on your lights before you get home from work, remotely lock your doors from, anywhere, and even check to make sure the curling iron is turned off hours after you’ve left.
Efficiency: You can reduce waste and improve efficiency using your smart home technology. Create automated tasks to save yourself time, trouble, and energy waste. Use your smart thermostat and smart lighting to control your home’s temperature and lighting when people are home and away.
Convenience: Smart home technology is here to make our lives more convenient. You can even auto-populate your own grocery list using your smart fridge! Remote home access gives you access to features of your home instantly and from anywhere, and voice command lets you discover information and complete tasks faster than ever. This convenience is perhaps why many Americans don’t care that their data is being mined–so long as it’s done so without harm.
There are of course some cons that come along with data mining and technology in your home. If you are a homeowner, it’s your responsibility to learn these risks and decide whether or not to incorporate (or get rid of) the technology.
Security Risks: While smart homes are designed to try to make us safer, the amount of information they store in order to do so puts at risk. If you do decide to integrate smart technology into your home, you need to take security precautions such as updating your software regularly and password protecting your devices. Hackers can compromise your private information and can even access your cameras and microphones.
Invasion of privacy: Your data is no longer just yours. If you use smart technology, your private information about your comings and goings and your home life will be collected and likely sold for profit to advertisers. Things such as the time you go to bed each night, the time and amount you watch tv, and even how many times you go to the bathroom are no longer private to just you. This can be especially concerning to homes with children.
Commoditization of home life: If you incorporate smart home technology into your home, you may have to rethink the way you view your home life. If you are seeking a home full of comfort and privacy, this technology may not be for you. After all, you may start to see ads pop up after you participate in private activities with your family.
How to Protect Your Privacy and Your Home
Despite the privacy and safety concerns listed above, there are plenty of ways to protect your privacy. In the event your home does experience a break-in due to security risks, make sure you are protected with home insurance.
Check out more tips on how to protect your privacy and home below:
Read the fine print: No iT structure can be 100% secured–but you can reduce risks by reading the fine print to see how your technology works. Outdoor devices such as smart sprinklers can be easily hacked by someone driving down the street with a Wi-Fi transmitter. Some indoor devices are harder to track, though, such as smart fridges.
Unplug your devices: When you aren’t using your device, it’s a good idea to unplug it. This will help you avoid hackers and save on your electric bill, so it’s a win-win! Remember that some devices, such as your smart lights and smart thermostat, should remain on so you can still access them when you’re away to turn things off and on.
Secure your router: Don’t leave your router with the name it was given to by a manufacturer. Instead, think of something obscure that doesn’t relate to your name or home address.
Disable data collection: You can turn off snooping features on some of your devices, so do your research. Your Smart TV is one example of a device that you should be easily able to opt-out of.
Periodically delete voice commands: There are features that allow you to clear out recordings on your smart speakers and related devices. You can delete the voice commands using your voice-activated technology or through your smart home device app.
Regularly install updates on devices: Whenever security risks are exposed, your device manufacturer should be updating the system. It’s essential that you install these updates to protect yourself from hackers and other risks.
Enable password protection: Your passwords are vitally important to keeping your devices secure. Always create your own unique username and password, and change them often! Keep a notebook in your house where you’ve handwritten your passwords so you can always find them, or use a secure online tool such as LastPass.
Buy from companies you trust: Research companies before you buy their technology. You’ll learn that some companies value privacy rights more than others. Stay up-to-date on technology news so you can be aware of emerging trends and controversies.
Nearly a third of U.S. consumers recently purchased or installed a smart home device, so it appears as though smart homes are here to stay. After all, they do make our lives easier, more convenient, and less wasteful. The trick is knowing and being comfortable with what you are signing up for, and then taking every security precaution necessary to keep your home secure.
Check out this visual from The Zebra for a visual guide on smart home technology and tips to keep your home secure.
Author Bio: Karlyn is a writer who specializes in the wellness and insurance spaces. She believes the best ingredients for success are passion and purpose.