Homes are getting smarter and more connected all the time. Here are the basics on how to set up your smart home:
I suggest that the subject should more importantly be “Why to create your own smart home?” A quick look through the details of recently hacked IoT devices should be enough warning to any reader that it might not be a bad idea to wait.
A Samsung TV that listens to everything you say? A ‘smart’ car alarm that makes your car less secure? A refrigerator that can tell you when you’ve run out of milk… if you programmed it properly and placed the milk in the correct few square inches?
Then of course there are the products from that unholy trinity of Amazon, Google and the holy Apple. These have by definition to listen constantly, so they can hear their ‘prompt’ word. One US couple got a phone call from some friends who were somehow sent a conversation from the couple’s Amazon Echo device - which somehow interpreted their argument as “listen to this and send it to these people”.
Of course, if you buy anything from a ‘less expensive’ supplier you have no idea what security - if any - they have baked into it. And while the article mentions IFTT, having been a user for several years I can attest to the number of times it fails to poll an input and so doesn’t follow the instructions it has been given. (I use it for instance to turn off my phone’s WiFi when I leave certain locations, because I don’t want my phone talking to strange WiFi connections - but it often fails to do even this simple task.)
I would suggest that the article should spend more space on security and privacy, and put them a little closer to the top rather than as the final section.
@BrendanMays, thank you for the guide.
I compared the promise of how a smart home can make life easier, with what we do every day.
Two aspects stand out.
Firstly, to take advantage requires substantially replacing or upgrading nearly every powered device in the home. The benefit then assumes there is a saving in not needing to reach for the light switch on the way out of the room, etc. Can anyone demonstrate that there is a genuine saving or benefit worth the added expense? True in a few more more years time most devices will come enabled, but will also cost more to purchase and repair or waste to scrap?
Secondly many of these services or functions are reliant on the home network and internet connections proving 100% reliable. This is a bit of a myth in our households. Every time there is either a power outage or network interruption it is most likely something will fail to reset or restart properly. Sometimes a ten minute fix. Sometimes hours and a long phone call to South Africa, or The Phillipines or ???
We do have our solar system connected to the net and for access to the home security system. These still require an app and passcode on the mobile or a laptop to connect! We will not accept MS etc saving our access credentials and passwords for us. Old fashioned or just ignorant?
For Choice perhaps future product needs to rate two more critical features. Ease of Integration/compatibility and the ability to recognise Australia English - as spoken by all of us raised here and hopefully also those with a broad range of accents of all our immigrants.
Perhaps there should be a consumer ban or right in this regard, or will we need under a future TPP to learn to say our ‘A’s and ‘Zees’ to suit?
Where and why do we have electrical devices that spy on us. Where is that information going and for what purpose?
That depends on what devices you use.
Have a mobile phone with WiFi turned on? It will regularly check what networks are around, and whoever owns/operates/provides those networks can see where you are and where you’ve been. Regardless of whether you have WiFi turned on, you almost certainly have GPS enabled - same thing, but less accurate. Of course, the whole point of using mobile phones is so that you can make phone calls when you’re out and about. To make a phone call, you need to connect to the local cell tower - so your phone keeps pinging those towers to find the nearest even when you’re not making a call. In short, if you don’t want your mobile phone to leak information, take the battery out and put it in the freezer (in an air-tight bag so it doesn’t get frosty). Alternatively, carry it around in a Faraday cage and only let it out when you need it (and will be instantly detected by your phone provider).
On a positive note, Apple has been improving its means of anonymising phones by using ‘fake’ IDs.
Then there are all these other devices you use. Your computer, for instance. Almost every website you visit will leave its own little breadcrumbs on your computer so you can be followed online. If a page allows for Facebook ‘likes’ or Twitter ‘shares’, it probably also shares the fact that you visited with those companies. You can also be tracked without your computer storing ‘cookies’ (which are the ‘legitimate’ means of allowing your state on a website to be held locally). What resolution is your browser window? For almost all of us, this will be very slightly different depending on our browser and computer/tablet/phone settings, and websites ask for this information so they can display correctly - with a side effect of allowing you to be tracked. Firefox is planning to main-stream an anonymisation method that was introduced for the Tor Browser (a side Firefox project), which rounds your resolution to the nearest 200 x 100 pixels (warning - that link contains high levels of nerdery).
How about your third-party car alarm? Some can allow you to be tracked, while others can record audio from your car. The makers have patched these bugs, but there are almost certainly more waiting to be discovered.
If you use Amazon’s Echo or Google voice search or Apple’s Siri these have to listen to everything they hear in order to respond when you say the ‘key’ word(s) (“Alexa”/“Okay Google”/“Siri”). They may not send everything back to home base, but how would you know?
Then there are all of those little electronic gadgets you have lying around the house that make life that tiny bit more convenient. You can say hi to the pets from your workplace, for instance - by having a camera connected to the Internet inside your own home! Sounds great, no?
Some of the information that is collected by these devices is used to serve us. A much larger amount is used to sell to us - or sell us. We are not necessarily the consumer, we are also the product for a large portion of the time we spend online.
I’d like a smarter home but for now its down to 6 LIFX globes and Netatmo weather station. Its wonderful being able to switch the kitchen light on before I get out of bed, so I can see not to fall over the cat in the morning as I head off to make coffee. Its also great to be able to leave the lights off when I go out in the evening, and switch them on from the car (Hey Siri Lights on) as I arrive home. And going to bed is simple too. I’d like to have a smart door entry so if I have a fall, the ambulance (if needed) can get inside without me having to get off the floor which is why I would have called them. Ideally, There would be some way for the door to recognise who is there and let them in, or not. Netatmo do have a camera/device which recognises people but I have not yet looked into it seriously, as its very expensive.
I dont want a smart fridge and I still have a “dumb” TV. I just look for things which make life easier for me as I become more decrepit.
A tool that might be of interest. Mac-only at present and is itself a bit of a risk. I’d prefer to see something that can run on (say) Raspberry Pi or even Arduino.