Thermostats, Locks and Lights: Digital Tools of Domestic Abuse

Excerpt from this article:

One woman had turned on her air-conditioner, but said it then switched off without her touching it. Another said the code numbers of the digital lock at her front door changed every day and she could not figure out why. Still another told an abuse help line that she kept hearing the doorbell ring, but no one was there.

Their stories are part of a new pattern of behavior in domestic abuse cases tied to the rise of smart home technology. Internet-connected locks, speakers, thermostats, lights and cameras that have been marketed as the newest conveniences are now also being used as a means for harassment, monitoring, revenge and control.

In more than 30 interviews with The New York Times, domestic abuse victims, their lawyers, shelter workers and emergency responders described how the technology was becoming an alarming new tool. Abusers — using apps on their smartphones, which are connected to the internet-enabled devices — would remotely control everyday objects in the home, sometimes to watch and listen, other times to scare or show power. Even after a partner had left the home, the devices often stayed and continued to be used to intimidate and confuse.

Advertisements

The House That Spied on Me

Excerpt from this article:

In December, I converted my one-bedroom apartment in San Francisco into a “smart home.” I connected as many of my appliances and belongings as I could to the internet: an Amazon Echo, my lights, my coffee maker, my baby monitor, my kid’s toys, my vacuum, my TV, my toothbrush, a photo frame, a sex toy, and even my bed.

…After two months of data collection, I was able to pick up a bunch of insights into the Hill household—what time they wake up, when they turn their lights on and off, when their child wakes up and falls asleep—but the weirdest one for me personally was knowing when Kashmir brushes her teeth. Her Philips Sonicare Connected toothbrush notifies the app when it’s being used, sending a distinctive digital fingerprint to the router. While not necessarily the most sensitive information, it made me imagine the next iteration of insurance incentives: Use a smart toothbrush and get dental insurance at a discount!

The larger pattern that emerged about the smart home was that all of the devices phoned home daily, even if they hadn’t been used, telling the companies that made them, “Hey. I’m still here. I’ve still got power. Have any updates for me?”

Overall, my takeaway is that the smart home is going to create a new stream of information about our daily lives that will be used to further profile and target us. The number of devices alone that are detected chattering away will be used to determine our socioeconomic status. Our homes could become like internet browsers, with unique digital fingerprints, that will be mined for profit just like our daily Web surfing is. If you have a smart home, it’s open house on your data.

Don’t let your smart home become a Monster House (and ruin your love life)

When does a smart home become a Monster House?

Excerpt from this article:

Smart homes are supposed to make life easier, but just keeping working my collection of smart home devices online and working seems to have become a part-time occupation. As I write this my Logitech Circle smart camera has gone offline again, for reasons I’m not even sure I could be bothered investigating.

Like I said. Ugh.

Drop dead

naked

Excerpt from this article on Dropcam, describing its motion detection feature for monitoring your house when you’re away, which emails a photo if the camera picks up some activity:

I never thought much of this until I opened an email to see a photo of me completely naked walking by the camera, on my way to grab from a pile of recently folded clean clothes after I took a shower.

Obviously, that’s a bit of a shock, but I was home alone and I’m the only one that opens my email, so I wasn’t too disturbed by it. But then I realized that image is on Dropcam’s system. And Google bought Dropcam so my photo is somewhere in Google’s cloud. There’s a web-accessible photo of my naked ass (with no black bar added above) somewhere and I have no idea where it is or how easy it is for anyone to find. Wonderful.

What If Smart Homes Were Designed For Seniors, Instead?

Excerpt from this article:

So when Kevin Gaunt envisions the future of the smart home, he doesn’t think of it in terms of millennials, or their “picturesque Airbnb-style houses inhabited by attractive people who effortlessly interact with technology, dealing with all our chores and reading our deepest wishes before we are even aware of them.” Instead, he asks what the smart homes and conversational interfaces of the future can do for the elderly. And his answers seem a lot less empty than the thermostat-automating smart home bots of today.

As part of his graduate project at the Umeå Institute of Design’s Interaction Design in Sweden, Gaunt imagined a series of smart home bots aimed at helping the elderly, as opposed to these devices’ current roles as “gatekeepers to a particular company’s ecosystems,” as Gaunt puts it. “That led me to think about what if a future smart home had multiple [assistants] that each focused on a narrow set of tasks, like online shopping, managing the daily budget, or spying on the neighbors’ whereabouts,” says Gaunt.

 

Smart Doesn’t Always Mean an Easy Home

Excerpt from this article:

There’s a reason they call them Smart Homes, not Easy Homes…  Smart devices address household problems great and small. For Adam Justice, a vice president of Grid Connect, the ConnectSense outlet made by the company ended a perpetual spat. “It solves the problem of my wife and I both being in bed and arguing over who is going to get up to turn out the lights,” he said. “So you could say it solves marital problems.” …Even so, that’s not enough, Mr. Dumas said. If you follow a predictable routine, he explained, “After a few times, it should ask, ‘We notice when you get home and it’s dark out, you turn on the hallway light, then turn on ESPN; do you want us to do that?’ ”  But that’s easier said than done.

“It’s so simple to comprehend the internet of Things 2.0, and people think we are there, and we aren’t,” Mr. Dumas said. “We are at 1.0, and there is a lot of value there, but 2.0 is where we need to go.”