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.
…I installed internet-connected devices to serve me, but by making the otherwise inanimate objects of my home “smart” and giving them internet-connected “brains,” I was also giving them the ability to gather information about my home and the people in it. The company that sold me my internet-connected vacuum, for example, recently said that it collects a “rich map of the home” and plans to one day share it with Apple, Amazon, or Alphabet, the three companies that hope to dominate the smart home market. Once I made my home smart, what would it learn and whom would it tell?
…It turns out that how we interact with our computers and smartphones is very valuable information, both to intelligence agencies and the advertising industry. What websites do I visit? How long do I actually spend reading an article? How long do I spend on Instagram? What do I use maps for? The data packets that help answer these questions are the basic unit of the data economy, and many more of them will be sent by people living in a smart home.
…I had to download 14 different apps to my phone to control everything, which meant creating an account for each one of those apps. (Yes, my coffeemaker has a log-in and a very long terms of service agreement.) After setting them up, I thought I’d be able to control all the devices by issuing voice commands to Alexa via the Echo—the smart speaker that we’ve been using for the last year as a glorified timer and music player— but this did not go as well as I had hoped.
..When you buy a smart device, it doesn’t just belong to you; you share custody with the company that made it. That’s not just a privacy concern. It also means that those companies can change the product you bought after you buy it. So your smart speaker can suddenly become the hub of a social network, and your fancy smart scale can have one of its key features taken away in a firmware update.
…I thought the house would take care of me but instead everything in it now had the power to ask me to do things. …it used its internet connectivity to pop up notifications on my phone. Being smart meant it could nag me.