The Internet of Shit

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.

8 thoughts on “The Internet of Shit

  1. The title of this episode reflects that I was intending to find a way somewhere in the narrative to embed a link to the tweetster by that same name. Here’s the link: IoS He’s funny, in a make-you-think kind of way.

  2. I will hold this stuff at bay with a ten foot pole. But I think part of the attraction of connecting to the internet is the ability to control your thermostat from your smart phone while you’re on a different continent. ANd supposedly the fridge would sense you are low on milk and order it. Meh, I’ll just get my own milk, and remember to turn down the t-stat on my own.

    • The big secret that Google doesn’t mention: You don’t need the Internet to do any of those things. You need a network, but not a big, wide-open public one with a giant company with access to your baby monitors. (I single Goole out because they own Nest, but the same logic applies for all of them.)

  3. Here’s a fun one I just heard about: Visio makes connected toys. A couple of months ago they were hacked by a guy who got access to data on five million adults, and six million children — including pictures and personal information.

    The hacker did not seem to have evil in mind, and as far as I know none of the data was made public. The kid said it was frightfully easy to hack Visio and he wanted to get the attention of the company before the bad guys got in (assuming they haven’t already).

    So, that’s pretty bad. THEN last week at CES Visio announced a family of home monitoring devices. You know, to improve the security of your home. Unless of course the bad guys can access the information. Visio promises this time to not suck at security so badly — but can they, when they apparently gave it little thought until a couple of months ago?

    • There are quite a few things like that hitting the market, some more effective than others. That one looks pretty slick, but there are others that also anonymize your Web traffic or create secure networks with your stuff all over the world.

      I was hoping this one would embrace HomeKit, as it has much more rigorous security in the devices themselves, but alas, no.

  4. Back when I worked for a company that my grandmother confused with Sysco (“I saw one of your company’s trucks at the restaurant you used to work at!”), the (then) CEO of said company used to talk about the glorious future of the Internet-connected house. He kept hammering on who cool it would be for your kitchen appliances to all be able to keep you up to date on the value of your stock portfolio.

    I’m serious: “There will be screens on all your appliances, and you’ll be able to check the stock market on your refrigerator, coffee maker, microwave — everything!” At the time I couldn’t imagine anything worse than obsessing about stock shit before I’d had my morning coffee.

    Almost 15 years after I let Silicon Valley’s door kick my ass on the way out, I have one question:

    “Why aren’t my microwave, range, and cable-box agreeing on the time?”

    Seriously, I used to write technical documents about how Internet routers agree on the time.

    Why, after every power outage, do I have to set appliance clocks once the cable box has automatically set itself?

    Don’t tell me about the current stock market, set my damn clock! Where is the Internet of Things that does things I give a damn about?

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