Smart Home Devices: Consent to Private Matters?

Smart Home Devices: Consent to Private Matters? by Adhaar Gupta

June 30, 2018

A garage linked to a camera that scans the number plate and automatically opens up the door as you drive your car towards it. We all love easing our lives but can we be sure that this camera is not storing our data and using it for purposes we don’t know off. Will this data be analyzed to figure out when you are likely to be home and then used to schedule deliveries based on your availability at home. What if this data is shared with the advertisers who know the make and model of your car? Running algorithms to tie your car details with your household income or family details to offer you products (be it car accessories, or a new car loan etc.) that you were not even thinking about. Are systems determining what an individual needs rather than the individual himself?

Research from Parks Associates finds purchase intentions for smart home devices among U.S. broadband households have increased by 66% year over year. Analysis firm Juniper Research shows smart speakers will be installed in 55 percent of U.S. households within the next four years, and that total advertising spend on voice will reach $19 billion in the same period. These research firms confirm that the use of smart home devices is on the rise and so are the privacy concerns. There are eavesdropping concerns with the smart home devices. Recently a family reported that the smart home device recorded their conversations at home and sent it to a random contact in their list. Smart devices especially home technology is rapidly integrating into our personal lives and it’s not difficult to imagine its consequences on privacy violations.

We have smart speakers that record conversations, smart thermostats equipped with motion sensors track the whereabouts of each household member, smart security systems that recognize family members and enable key less entry, smart health tracking devices, smart refrigerators that analyze our grocery lists, spending habits and much more. We are surrounded by devices that invade out private spaces.

If the existing spectrum of smart devices weren’t enough to invade our privacy, the future has much more in-store for us. Recent headlines from a leading tech giant demonstrated a sneak peek into future of voice where an Artificial Intelligence (AI) system was used to book a hair appointment and a restaurant reservation. The conversation between a human and a computer sounded natural. Systems talking and engaging in complex conversations without human intervention seems exciting and concerning at the same time. Should we be aware that we are talking to a bot on the other side of the phone? Should we be concerned that someone is recording the phone conversation with a bot? The recordings can reveal a lot more about a person and its surroundings than he or she would like to share. All these advances will have massive ramifications on the future of advertising. We need to be more concerned about the consequences.

The recent Facebook-Cambridge Analytica case of harvesting data to meet ones need and the new data rules (GDPR) implemented in EU have brought spotlight on the data privacy aspects. As a user we should be aware that getting a smart device is like inviting an outsider into our private space.