Well “1984” fans, Big Brother has arrived, but it turns out he looks more like a household appliance than an actual human being. Sure, it looked good on paper for normal, everyday items connect wirelessly to your tablet or smartphone. But it shouldn’t have taken so long to figure out that every little wireless interaction you make could and would be tracked.
The thought that the information harvested would be used for such benign deeds as targeting your household with advertisements geared toward families with children, for instance, might be mildly annoying. The real issue is that the “privacy of your own home” no longer exists when anyone with enough computer savvy and some spare time on their hands can hack into any device that connects to the Internet.
You’ve got a firewall a mile wide and just as tall around the computer you and your family use to access email, FaceBook and to do the household books. But the thought that your dishwasher, washer and dryer are security risks is absurd. At least, it was before companies like Whirlpool started equipping their appliances with technology that allows you to control them from anywhere in the world via the Internet. According to Lew Westwave of CNet, it’s a deceptively small computer chip that does the trick of talking to your tablet or smartphone. Ostensibly this capability is used so that manufacturers can monitor their products’ performance for troubleshooting and energy efficiency improvement. However, it could also clue-in someone who is spying on you as to your daily habits and whereabouts.
A light bulb, seriously? Unfortunately, yes. On Worldmag.com Daniel James Devine reports on advanced light bulbs that are in development. You’ll be able to use your tablet or smart phone to adjust the brightness or even change the color of light these “smart bulbs” emit. Talking directly to your lightbulbs via your smartphone has the potential to bypass other home systems that allow you to turn lights off and on remotely. But because the Internet is the middleman, that won’t help guard your family’s privacy.
It’s difficult to imagine who would want to hack into your heating and air-conditioning system, but if it can be done, hackers will do it. In an article for Science Nordic, Lise Brix says that a neighborhood adolescent could do such a thing simply out of spite and boredom. So, too, could a stalker or even someone wanting to geo-locate you if they suspect you’re away on vacation and not at home.
What You Can Do
The Federal Trade Commission offers standard advice to consumers who are concerned about keeping their private information secure: encrypt data, keep your passwords secret and change them often, monitor your kids’ social network usage and don’t allow them to over share. Don’t send personal information over Wi-Fi connections, either. But here’s the painful one: read privacy policies. True, they’re wordy and can put you to sleep, but you want to know how your appliance company and light bulb manufacturer are going to use the info they gather and how they will protect you.
Home security is another way to help you take back your privacy. Shop around before you settle on one company, though. Visit a comparison shopping website like http://www.securitycompanies.com/ . These sites allow you to review the profiles of a variety of home alarm companies and gather information on security cameras, home automation and wireless technology so you can make the best possible choice for your family.
Ben is a technology reporter who covers Internet-related topics.
Originally posted 2015-03-17 00:52:17.