Is Convenience Creating Hazards In The Digital Age?

Kate Voss
Activist Post

Home automation technology: is it an asset or a liability? Alternately referred to as “The Internet of Things,” such systems allow homeowners to control multiple devices within their house, which communicate with each other via wireless technology. However egalitarian this may sound, it’s worth noting that such systems do pose multiple security risks.

Part of what’s alarming about this situation is that Google recently acquired the home automation tech developer Nest. On the one hand, Google has done a tremendous amount to create an experience for Internet browsers that weeds out marketing ploys and, ideally speaking, takes users to the sites which are most relevant to their search queries. On the other hand, because so many people use Google, they have comprehensive data about virtually everyone in the developed world, and they’ve also been working, rather pro-actively, towards increasing Internet availability in remote corners of the United States, as well as under served communities in Africa. The company has come under scrutiny in recent years for selling data about Google users to various third parties. If Google is working directly in tandem with home automation experts, what does this mean about the precision of the data that they’ll have about our day-to-day lives? The fear is that Google will now have a direct window into our homes…

It’s disconcerting also because of how rapidly the technology field is advancing.

For instance, the latest iteration of the Brinks home automation system enables homeowners to control some of the central functions of their home from a smart device app; it has basically converted smart phones into compact, universal remote controls which can do everything from adjusting lighting and heating to setting up locks and receiving surveillance video feeds. You recall reading about the “telescreens” in George Orwell’s 1984? Here we are, twenty years behind schedule.

The recent NSA scandal, and all of the shocking information that has come to surface because of Edward Snowden has done little to provide comfort. What are the potential implications of the government working so closely with tech giants in the private sector? We can at least be thankful that Orwell, and many of the other classic science-fiction writers who made predictions about how technological advances could seriously harm us, didn’t have to live in the world where many are left to ponder things like, “Did they get it right? Is the dystopian nightmare breathed to life?”

Home automation does have its supporters, however. Some claim that it could help reduce energy consumption if homeowners have constant and precise control over what appliances are running in their house. Critics contend that home automation leaves homeowners much more vulnerable to home invasions. For instance, if you are capable of locking and unlocking doors, and turning on and off lights and security equipment with the phone itself, consider for a moment what you’re leaving yourself vulnerable to. All a burglar needs to do is gain access to your IP, and then they can control everything just as easily.

There is greater emphasis being placed on instant gratification and convenience with every passing year. The key today is remaining attentive as a consumer. Remember: if it sounds too good to be true, there’s a good chance that it is, and convenience should not come at the expense of basic security.

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Kate Voss writes for Collective Evolution, where this article first appeared.

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