Maybe you’ve heard about this whole “Internet of Things” thing. It is ultimately a pretty cool idea, where all the gadgets in your life talk to each other and just work better.
Exhibit A in the IoT revolution is your thermostat. You can now have a device in your house that learns from your behavior, and (maybe in a couple of years) only heats the rooms your family is using. Sweet!
But… if the internet goes down, you freeze to death. Or bake. And the kid next door with the gadget that breaks your thermostat protocol can really mess with your quality of life. Unlikely? Just ask owners of Samsung smart refrigerators. Goddam fridges have been hacked.
Brief aside: Apple’s home automation system, HomeKit, has been slow to catch on because the strict security and privacy requirements are a burden for your local fridge manufacturer.
So, the burning question is, “why do those gadgets need to be connected to the Internet to be smart?”
Does my thermostat need to be connected to the Internet (and therefore be vulnerable to mischief) to adapt to my habits? The answer is a resounding no. It will be cool when my home control systems talk to each other, but the Internet is completely unnecessary.
The Internet of Things is a sham to rip you off, and will disable your home whenever Comcast has another outage. What those guys promise can be better, and more privately, accomplished with a little local network of things. You might call it an Intranet of Things. That’s actually pretty exciting. A home network, controlled by the homeowner, entirely self-contained, that adapts to the residents’ habits. It would have happened already if Google didn’t want data on your behavior.
All the players, Apple, Google, Amazon, and the *ahem* even less credible players are trying to create the protocols that will run your home. Nest is now owned by Google, which means that a company whose entire revenue stream is based on knowing all about you now knows when you’re home, what rooms you’re in when you’re home, and can choose at any time to turn on a camera to see what you’re doing. Yikes.
Amazon recently came out with a Siri alternative, a piece of hardware that sits in your home and listens to everything you say and based on Amazon’s software chooses what to send to the mother ship for analysis.
Once upon a time, Science Fiction was filled with helper intelligences. In those stories folks could ask questions into the air and the house intelligence would answer. Now we’re close to having those intelligences in real life, but with a critical difference: In SiFi there were as many helpers as there were people; your AI pal was yours and yours alone. In the immediate future there will be AI helpers, but there will only be four of them and they will serve their corporate masters first. Every question you ask will be duly recorded and used to profit from you.
Back to the microphone in your house. Even if Amazon’s intentions are pure, what happens when a federal agent with a dubious writ shows up on their doorstep and says, “we want to hear everything spoken in that house.” The microphone is there. The connection is there. The constitution has already been buggered to allow it.
That’s not limited to Amazon, and not limited to audio. Siri, Cortana, Xbox. Some are, perhaps, more trustworthy than others. Google makes money selling information about you. Apple makes money selling you stuff. Amazon makes money selling you information. All have to live under the laws of the United States.
Shortly I will share with you just how much of your personal information has already been stolen. In the meantime, please don’t make it easy for the assholes. Don’t buy a thermostat that for some reason needs the Internet to operate.