Smart Home

How Much of Your Personal Data Could Smart Devices Track?

Joel Lee 19-01-2016

Despite the growing number of benefits provided by smart technologies 6 Types of Home Automation You Can Actually Afford Are you ready to join the smart home revolution but worried that it's beyond your budget? Smart homes aren't that expensive, and there are plenty of components that the average homeowner can afford. Read More , privacy and security concerns are still as real as ever. And even though we love the idea of a smart home, this is just one of many things to be aware of before diving in I Lived in a Smart Home for 20 Years. Here's What You Should Know. MakeUseOf spoke with one of our regular readers and commenters, Ben Stutt, of Rock Hill, South Carolina, USA, about his experiences living in a smart home. Read More .


The truth is that smart devices may not be as secure as advertised Home Security Systems May Not Be As Secure As You Think Here we take a look at some of the most notable smart home security hacks – exploring what happened and why it happened. Read More , and at this moment in history, there are several types of devices that you may want to avoid connecting to the Internet of Things 5 Devices You Do NOT Want to Connect to the Internet of Things The Internet of Things (IoT) may not be everything it’s cracked up to be. In fact, there are some smart devices you may not want to connect to the web at all. Read More . If you let them track your data, who knows how that could be used against you.

For example, did you know that cops in 2014 accessed and used smart home footage in legal proceedings? We need to be careful about what our smart devices actually know about us, or else we could be blindsided by even worse scenarios.

Video Recordings of Home Activity

One of the more obvious issues of security is video, which is ironic because security-related devices tend to be the ones that employ video technology the most. And to be fair, there are a number of benefits to using home surveillance cameras 6 Creative Uses for Wireless Surveillance Cameras in Your Home Security cameras are useful for more than just surveillance. With a dash of creativity and elbow grease, you can kick your quality of life up a notch with these atypical ideas for your security cameras. Read More .

But there are many dangers, too. For example, an outdoor security camera with Internet connectivity is useful because you can check it at any time from anywhere — but if an online hacker managed to eavesdrop on the video feed, he could deduce where you live 5 Dangers to Consider When Pointing Your Home Security Cameras It is important to carefully consider where you position your cameras, and what parts of your home you point them at. Keeping things secure is important, but so is maintaining your privacy. Read More .

Or worse, someone could inadvertently spy on you due to a glitch in the system that swaps your video stream with someone else’s feed, as was the case in this Skybell horror story on Reddit.


And if that isn’t bad enough, video recordings are arguably more frightening than video streams. Surveillance cameras usually record and store footage so you can go over them later if necessary — but smart services are moving to the cloud, which means these videos are being held by companies, not you.

It’s eerie to think that someone else could have a video archive of you and your family in your living room. Taken to the extreme, as depicted in the tweet above, companies could even one day blackmail and extort users Sextortion Has Evolved And It's Scarier Than Ever Sextortion is an abhorrent, prevalent blackmailing technique targeting young and old, and is now even more intimidating thanks to social networks like Facebook. What can you do to protect yourself from these seedy cybercriminals? Read More based on that footage.

Your Living Room Conversations

In terms of privacy, microphones are scarier than video cameras for two reasons: first, they can potentially pick up sound from any direction instead of needing to be pointed somewhere specific, and second, you’re more likely to be in the presence of a microphone than a video camera at any given moment.


And if you’re in range of a microphone, it could pick up your conversations — even if you think the microphone is off.

In 2013, it was announced that all new Android smartphones would be equipped with an Open Mic feature that’s always listening so it can identify “OK Google” voice commands 8 Voice Tricks for Google Navigation That You Never Knew About With "OK Google" enabled, you'll never have to touch Google Maps again. These voice tricks will make sure of that! Read More at any time. That same feature came to iPhones in 2015, similarly always listening for “Hey Siri” voice commands.

For smart home users, however, this “always listening” feature is most prominent in the Amazon Echo personal assistant How Amazon Echo Can Make Your Home A Smart Home Smart home tech is still in its early days, but a new product from Amazon called "Echo" may help bring it into the mainstream. Read More and in voice-operated smart TVs Your Smart TV is Watching You - and It's Not the Only One! Are Vizio smart TVs capturing information about you and transmitting it back to Vizio without telling you about it? And if so, is this something you should be worried about? Read More — two devices that are likely to be in range of any living room conversations you might have. Samsung even warned users about this in early 2015.

To be clear, we aren’t saying that these devices are recording everything you say. We’re just saying that the technology to do so already exists, and if we aren’t careful, these smart devices could make it possible for someone to listen in on private matters.


Your Media Consumption Habits

Between Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime Netflix vs. Hulu vs. Amazon Prime: Which Should You Choose? It has been years since we've compared heavy-hitting streaming services, Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime. And with changes in pricing, content, quality, and interface, we thought it was time to revisit the topic. Read More and a whole host of other online streaming services, cord cutters are starting to come out on top Considering Canceling Cable? The True Cost of Cutting the Cord When you add everything up, do you really save money by cutting the cord? We do the math involved with cancelling cable in favor of Internet services. Read More . And when it comes to smart living in the 21st century, anyone who doesn’t have a media streaming device The 8 Best Devices for Streaming Movies to Your TV There are several ways to stream media to your TV, and deciding which way is right for you can be overwhelming. Let us help you explore what's currently available. Read More will soon be left behind.


But here’s the interesting bit: up until recently, TV networks never really knew what you were watching. Rather, TV ratings and viewership numbers were estimated using the Nielsen survey method How Nielsen Ratings Determine What You Watch on TV Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, and The Walking Dead. What do these shows have in common? Read More because TVs have always been a one-way pipe — they’ve never been capable of “reporting” your media habits.

Now that we stream directly from services like Netflix and Hulu, companies can know exact numbers, and this means that our TV and movie watching habits are easily tracked. Combine that with cookies that track our Web habits What Is a Website Cookie? How Cookies Affect Your Online Privacy You've heard of internet cookies, but what exactly are they? What do they have to do with your privacy? Here's what you need to know. Read More and you’ll realize that nothing is really private anymore.


How Often You’re Away From Home

One thing that makes smart home automation so useful is the ability to integrate devices with your real-time location. For example, it’s trivial enough to have lights turn on the moment you arrive at home 9 Smartphone IFTTT Tricks to Make Your Life 100x Easier IFTTT lets you automate aspects of your life without requiring any technical knowledge whatsoever. Here are some quick IFTTT smartphone tricks that can ease the stresses of everyday life. Read More , which can even result in a safer and more secure home 4 Ways a Smart LED Bulb Can Keep Your Home Safe & Secure Did you know that a few LED bulbs could be the difference between a home robbery and peace of mind? Sounds weird, but it's true. Read More .

This is made possible by the always-on GPS location function How to Use GPS Location to Make Your House Welcome You Home Setting up your GPS technologies to welcome you home is a great way to save time on lots of things, from turning on the air conditioning to starting dinner. Read More that’s available in most smartphones today. And even if you don’t use the actual GPS location function, your position can still be extrapolated using cellular and Wi-Fi data.


Some smart devices can actually use this data to learn your travel patterns. When are you usually at home? When are you usually away from home? A device like the Nest Learning Thermostat 7 Nest Automation Tricks to Cut Your Heating Bill in Half If there were a Nest thermostat in every home, it would have the biggest single impact on energy consumption in history; and it could save you more money than you might imagine. Here's how. Read More can even recognize these patterns without GPS.

If a hacker/burglar got a handle on this information, they might be able to deduce the times you’d likely be away from home and use that window of opportunity to break in. Or if you’re ever a suspect in a crime, the data could acquit or incriminate you.

Your Fitness and Health Habits

Fitness is another area where smart devices are becoming big, especially devices that fall under the category of wearable technology. And as expected, wearable devices have their own security threats How To Stop Your Wearable Hardware Becoming A Security Threat Read More that you need to worry about.

Some gadgets, in conjunction with apps, can record your running paths 6 Android Apps Every Hiker Needs How can your Android device improve your next hiking trip? These six apps can challenge you, help you explore, and provide incredibly useful information. Read More . Other gadgets, like the Jawbone UP3, can track your dietary routines The 8 Best Fitness Gadgets to Help You Get in Shape With the increasing onset of wearable tech, the Internet of things and smart gadgets, it is now easier than ever to get in shape. Read More . There are even devices that can learn your medication needs and remind you when your next dose is up.

In most cases, it wouldn’t be the end of the world if this data got leaked, but that doesn’t mean it would be pleasant either.

The sad thing is that fitness sensors can indeed improve your workouts How to Get Your Best Workout Using Fitness Sensors There are lots of devices and apps that will help you exercise and stay healthy. Here are some of the latest innovations in the area of fitness sensors. Read More , and when used properly, certain wearable devices can make you healthier Can Wearable Health Devices Actually Make You Healthier? Despite the number of wearable health devices set to reach 170 million by 2017, there is still no scientific evidence proving their effectiveness. But it's far too soon to give up hope. Read More . But as long as privacy remains an issue, most people should probably keep their distance from these gadgets.

Data Files on Drives & Devices

When it comes to security, smart TVs do not have a good reputation Smart TVs Are a Growing Security Risk: How Do You Deal With This? Imagine being hacked through your smart TV. It sounds silly and mundane, but can be quite serious. Here's what you need to know. Read More . Peeping cameras, malware infections, and unauthorized data collection have all happened at one point or another. Think about that the next time you plug a USB drive into your smart TV.


The takeaway here is that you should be wary of any data-holding or data-reading device that has Internet connectivity. Smart TVs are an obvious scapegoat, but other devices like wireless hard drives Wireless Hard Drives: How They Work & Which Features Matter Wireless hard drives are the future of external storage, but which features and specifications are the most important when shopping for one? Read More should raise a few flags, too.

Your User Accounts & Passwords

At the end of the day, smart devices know a lot about you — a lot more than you probably think. This is especially true if your smart devices are integrated with things like your email accounts, bank accounts, and credit card numbers.

For example, smart credit cards allow you to consolidate all of your individual cards into a single card What Are Smart Credit Cards, And How Do They Work? Are you tired of juggling half a dozen credit and debit cards in your wallet? I know I am. Read More for convenience, but do you trust the issuer of that smart credit card to keep your info safe? Or what about IFTTT, which many people use to integrate smart devices 5 More Ways to Use IFTTT to Save Money (and Time) at Home Anyone can create their own IFTTT recipes, and many of them can be used to put extra money in your pocket. Read More with things like social media and Google Calendar?

This isn’t a new risk — services like Mint require that you trust them enough to enter bank account details — but it’s still very real.

Which Issues Scare You Most?

We aren’t trying to scare you away from smart home automation. In fact, we really like it and we can’t wait to see how the Internet of Things will continue to evolve The Internet of Things: How It'll Change Your Life Next Year Internet of Things has undergone its own Cambrian Explosion, and it promises to make your life much more convenient in the years to come. Here's why. Read More . Our aim here is to raise awareness of possible current drawbacks like the ones listed above.

If you’re still interested in smart home stuff, remember that a smart home is cheaper than you think How Much Does a Smart Home Really Cost? A smart home could change your life – freeing up time in your day and regulating your routine so you don't have to remember what needs to be done. But how expensive is it, really? Read More , especially when you factor in ways to save energy and money Is Your Home Energy Efficient? 7 Things You've Overlooked The true cost of a smart home is far cheaper than you think. In fact, there are many home automation devices that everyone can afford, and many of them will feature in this article. Read More , and some devices can even increase the value of your home Installing These Smart Devices Can Increase Your Home's Value In this article, we take a look at which smart technology you should install that will let you add those extra few thousand dollars onto your asking price. Read More . It’s worth looking into.

Considering how much personal data could be tracked, which of the things in this article bother you the most? Does it turn you off from smart devices altogether? Share your thoughts with us below!

Image Credits: Netflix on Laptop by lculig via Shutterstock, Biker on Phone by Rasulov via Shutterstock, USB Stick Drive by You Can More via Shutterstock

Related topics: Computer Privacy, Online Privacy, Smartphone Security.

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  1. Squalle
    October 4, 2016 at 9:52 am

    I've given up on worrying about all this. If you want one, you have to deal with the other. The coin always has another side. If google or anyone else wants to know what I'm watching or what I talk about during dinner, fine. I couldn't care less.

  2. Anonymous
    April 19, 2016 at 5:24 pm

    This past Sunday, 4/17/16, CBS program 60 Minutes had a report on smartphone security. Or rather, the lack thereof. Workers in two security companies were interviewed for the report. To test the security in smartphones, 60 Minutes reporter gave these people two smartphone numbers, hers and a US Senator's (with his permission). Within minutes the security experts copied ALL the data contained in both phones' storage. They were also able to listen in on both sides of all phone made calls using the two devices. The report was scary enough to make one go back to using two tomato cans and a string.

    So to answer the question, smart devices can track and reveal any and all personal information. We dare not trust the technology we use.

  3. Jayson
    January 19, 2016 at 6:01 pm

    Why is youtube video. #One coin for all of your cards # listed so many times in this article?

    • James Bruce
      January 19, 2016 at 6:07 pm

      It's a common YouTube bug with multiple embeds. Do a hard refresh in your browser and it should be fixed.