‘Ask all the time: why do I need this?’ How to stop your vacuum from spying on you – The Guardian
This month, Amazon inked a deal to acquire smart vacuum company iRobot – the makers of Roomba – for a tidy US$1.7bn. As some see it, if the purchase goes through, that should worry us.
“It’s all about the data,” says David Vaile from the Australian Privacy Foundation.
Privacy advocates such as Vaile are concerned the robot vacuum cleaner will give Amazon access to floor plans of users’ homes, using mapping features some iRobot products already offer.
Amazon are yet to release details about what existing and future iRobot data will be used for; and the company told Reuters that they safeguard customer privacy and do not sell their data.
But Vaile says of big tech companies: “They’re about collecting data, and the products and services are really just bait to lure and hopefully lock in unsuspecting data subjects.
“Their opportunities for manipulating you and exploiting you, once they’ve spied on you, are more or less open-ended and getting broader all the time.”
At its gentlest, data gathered by smart devices can be used by manufacturers to figure out how to more effectively sell you products. At worst, it can mean staff listening to conversations recorded by your smart speakers or sharing your doorbell camera videos with the police. And as with anything internet-connected, there is also a risk of hackers gaining access to your private information.
But despite the risks, smart home technology is booming. Even if you’re not inclined to purchase an internet-connected fish tank or a toilet that tracks and analyses your stool samples, odds are you’ve got at least one smart device at home. It could be the TV you stream Netflix on, your baby monitor or the air conditioner you control with an app.
So is it possible to have a smart home and not be spied on? Well, sort of.
The big decisions
From a data privacy perspective, the smartest home is a dumb home.
“That’s the real answer: don’t do it,” Vaile says. Failing that, he recommends paring back your system as much as possible.
“Just ask all the time: why do I need this?” he says. “Because every one of the fancy new tricks will come with both a privacy and a data security cost.” The simpler the system, “the better off you’ll be”.
Simplifying means disabling certain features on existing devices and being judicious about what you buy.
Andre Lackmann, an IT professional from Sydney, has many smart devices at home – but not security cameras. This limits his privacy and security risk to a level he is comfortable with.
To do this yourself, he suggests imagining the consequences of a data breach. “If they get some information about when my lights went on and off, or what temperature it is in the living room, that’s not a big deal,” Lackmann says. “But if they can get a video feed of the bedroom, that’s a bit of a problem, right?”
It’s also a matter of determining what data you’re willing to trade in return for greater convenience. For …….