Remember when going to a friend’s house involved grabbing a beer and watching the game? It’s not so simple any more…
Houses have moved on – microwaves are no longer the most technologically advanced thing under the roof. While your best buddy’s home might seem like the coolest place on Earth thanks to a dazzling array of the latest devices, the reality is that from the moment you arrive to the moment you leave, your privacy could be under attack.
Let’s go on a virtual visit to your friend’s smart house:
Whether you arrive on foot or by car, your privacy could already be compromised before you step foot inside the door or gate.
There are several devices on the market that provide facial recognition and access control – Chui is one, DoorBot is another. They slightly differ from each other, but Chui is arguably the more impressive of the two.
Chui claims to make a home “socially intelligent”. The owner can get real-time notifications (including a picture and timestamp) about who is at their door, regardless of where they are in the world. They can also set up a “do not disturb” for the mailman or a parcel delivery, and it can let them talk to whoever is at their door via their mobile phone.
As a guest, this system lets you conduct an interesting test to see how much your friend trusts you – if your friend adds your picture to the software, it will automatically unlock the door for you without you having to even ring the doorbell!
So you’ve negotiated the minefield of entry, and you’re safely ensconced at the dinner table, waiting for your friend’s pre-match culinary delights. You might think you can kick back and enjoy some alone-time while he finishes off one of his best recipes in the kitchen, but you’d be wrong.
In fact, not only are you not alone, but your dinner plate could be spying on you. One example of such a plate is under development by Philadelphia-based start-up Fitly. Their Kickstarter campaign for the “SmartPlate” has a $100,000 goal, and if successful their product will analyze everything that you eat.
The plate will have three digital cameras and image recognition technology, with the data sent to a corresponding smartphone app. You’ll no longer be able to sneak a bread roll or a few nachos without your friend knowing that you’re spoiling your appetite.
In The Kitchen
Perhaps your friend has burnt the aforementioned recipe and needs a helping hand in the kitchen. You’re still not safe – and you need to be especially alert if he asks you to stir something that’s on the stove.
It has three components; the knob itself (which supposedly fits any stove), a temperature gauge for the pan, and the associated app which tracks all cooking alterations and can tweak the temperature at the press of a button.
If your friend has one of these, he’ll know exactly what you’re doing while you help with the cooking. If it’s your fault that the rice turns out too dry, the meat casserole gets burnt, or the steamed vegetables are cold – he’ll be able to prove it was you and you won’t have a leg to stand on.
Dinner was ruined and you ended up ordering a takeout pizza. Finally, you get settled down to watch your team triumphantly stride to victory without a care in the world. Except, you’re still being watched (frankly, after filling up on junk food and then burning the dinner, it’s no surprise your friend doesn’t really trust you).
The Samsung smart TV debacle earlier this year was well-documented, but it’s unlikely that Samsung is the only offender.
If your friend controls their Smart TV using a voice activation feature, there is a strong chance that it could “listen” to what you and your friend are discussing, and may even share that data with either the manufacturer or other third parties.
You’ve been warned.
Something we’ve not touched on in our virtual visit is what happens to your children. If you and your friend have a young child of similar age, you might well opt to leave them on their own with some toys while you hangout elsewhere in the house.
Aside from the obvious safety dangers of doing this, how damaging is it from a privacy perspective?
Some modern children’s toys now have webcams in them. One example is the Karotz Smart Rabbit, an Internet-connected robotic bunny. In addition to its webcam, it also comes complete with a microphone, an RFID chip and speakers.
The problem here is clear – it would be incredibly easy for a hacker to access the webcam in the toy. It would allow them to capture video (which could include pictures of you or your personal details), or remotely watch live video, thus learning about your schedule and when your home is vacant.
It turned out your visit was a nightmare. Burnt food, an annoyed friend, and a TV that knows your financial situation. You need to go home, fast.
You bid your friend farewell, and head off down the driveway, but your privacy still isn’t safe. Your friend is so desperate to see you leave that he immediately heads inside to check his Arlo security cameras.
The cameras are entirely wireless, record HD quality footage, are weatherproof, have night vision, and even have motion detectors. It means they can be used for a range of purposes other than just security (such as baby and pet monitoring). Naturally, the output from all the cameras stream directly to your mobile device.
You’re furious. Your former best friend is now your biggest enemy. He blamed you for everything and made your visit entirely uncomfortable. It’s time for revenge.
Revenge is best served cold, so a few months later you sneak around for a late night rendezvous with your ex-friend’s partner. Unfortunately, you forgot just how high-tech his home is.
His Zigbee Motion Sensor rumbles you straight away. It can detect movement in any room in which it’s installed, and can trigger lights, sirens, and other electronics to turn on to alert the owner.
Thankfully, it’s also got other, less nefarious uses – for example, it could automatically turn on a light when your child gets out of bed, make a floodlight turn on when a car pulls into the driveway, or turn on the AC in the middle of the night if it gets too hot.
Beaten by a Smart Home
As you flee the scene of your crime and your friend gives chase down the street, you wistfully reminisce of the days when you and he watched the game and drank beer together, without his smart home monitoring your every move.
Final score – Smart Home 1, You 0.
Have you got a friend with a high-tech home? What is it like? Do you worry about your own privacy when you do go around to visit? What about our story – too far-fetched or a sign of things to come?
We’d love to hear your thoughts, let us know your ideas and feedback in the comments section below.
(Disclaimer: MakeUseOf does not condone sleeping with a friend’s partner in order to get revenge)!
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