Imagine for a moment you walk up to your own house and open your own door and then a server on the other side of the world gets a notification. You lay down in your own bed and a pressure sensor records the exact time you lie down. Now imagine you’re in a courtroom and all of this information is pulled up as evidence of an alibi. Maybe this sounds dystopian to you but may not be as far fetched as once thought.
Smart home devices are marketed to the general public of consumers as something to make life easier, so much in fact that people are willing to overlook the information that is being collected in the process. Almost every living moment of your life is performed in front of these devices every day and yet people act as though nothing is happening, this is a level of trust that has been built between the company and consumers.
A fun little exercise. Go out somewhere public and see how many CCTV cameras you can spot from the one position #ALC205
— Ben Bryan (@TradeBen) July 25, 2017
That is why many people choose to have their home appliances be turned into internet connected devices. (Townsend, Knoefel and Goubran, 2011)
The ‘Google Home’ device collects and records every command you give it for in order to help improve its voice recognition and to provide more things that you are interested in seeing. This can, in turn, lead to a form of censorship in which we are only seeing the thing we want to see, rather than an objective view of things, this is more related to a news and political aspect but the same logic can be applied to many other things. (Saad al-sumaiti, Ahmed and Salama, 2017).
Perhaps something that should be more alarming to people is smart home security. Nowadays, you can see every room and even who is knocking on your door from the other side of town through a camera displayed on your phone and what’s worse, you can even unlock your door through the internet as well.
It appears that many people do not truly appreciate the ramifications that come with connecting such vital things to the internet. Someone with the right skills could easily hack into the locks on your door and have free access to all of your belongings.
People often have security cameras on the outside of their homes, but where do people stand on having them on the inside? #ALC205
— Ben Bryan (@TradeBen) August 10, 2017
Although the first portion of this blog post has been a look at the horrific downsides of smart home surveillance, there are many ways in which the information kept by these devices can help others. For instance, an aspect of the issue that you may not have considered is how a smart home can benefit the differently abled. Having a fully automated house might be an amazing advancement for someone who does not have the physical capability to do many of the household labour jobs of the past. What was a once a job for family, friends and carers can now be done instantaneously through the power of technology (Demiris and Hensel, 2017).
At the end of the day, it is up to each of us to weigh up the benefits and pitfalls of the technology and make educated decisions about whether or not they best suit or individual case. The intention of this post was never to provide a definitive answer about the ethics of smart homes, rather evoke thought and conversation about the issue.
Demiris, G. and Hensel, B. (2017). “Smart Homes” for Patients at the End of Life. [online] Available at: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/02763890802665049 [Accessed 5 Aug. 2017].
Saad al-sumaiti, A., Ahmed, M. and Salama, M. (2017). Smart Home Activities: A Literature Review. [online] Available at: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/02763890802665049 [Accessed 7 Aug. 2017].
Townsend, D., Knoefel, F. and Goubran, R. (2011). Privacy versus autonomy: A tradeoff model for smart home monitoring technologies. 2011 Annual International Conference of the IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society. [online] Available at: http://ieeexplore.ieee.org/abstract/document/6091176/ [Accessed 9 Aug. 2017].