‘Smart’ Homes, Dumb Users?

I meant to post a link to The House That Spied on Me, a Gizmodo story that looked a little deeper into just how much data a ‘connected’ household is leaking, when I restarted this site a few weeks ago:

Our 1970s apartment building did not offer enough electrical outlets for this 2018 smart home, so we had power strips and outlet expanders everywhere, to the point where I was worried I was going to spark a fire and burn our smart home down. (This actually might have been cathartic.)

I had to download 14 different apps to my phone to control everything, which meant creating an account for each one of those apps. (Yes, my coffeemaker has a log-in and a very long terms of service agreement.) After setting them up, I thought I’d be able to control all the devices by issuing voice commands to Alexa via the Echo—the smart speaker that we’ve been using for the last year as a glorified timer and music player — but this did not go as well as I had hoped.

I can’t help but wonder, given the sheer quantity of End User Licensing Agreements they must have been required to click through to install all that software, whether in the end what’s going to kill the concept of smart homes isome gigantic legal tangle where it turns out that we’ve all clicked-through-but-claimed-to-have-read-and-understood conflicting agreements that we’ll let every app/device phone home and upload whatever date they deem necessary.

It’ll be reported that User A failed to live up to their solemn contractual obligation 1 to allow Amazon (or Apple, or Google, or Facebook, or whoever) to slurp up X megabytes of data per day, and therefore User A was in breach of their obligations to the company. They would henceforth be liable to pay a fine of US$X per day until they stopped running the other 15 apps/devices that wanted to upload their respective megabytes of data per day.

If we’re lucky, ordinary end users will conclude that it’s safest to avoid the whole mess by not letting their home network become a home to a dozen or more smart devices. If we’re unlucky, this will be seen by whichever company is seen as market leader as the perfect moment to announce that if we convert to their devices and software they’ll guarantee to have them cooperate with one another so that they can all leak data about us in a much smoother, more coordinated manner that we’ll barely notice.

(Alternatively, this whole thing will look like a fabulous income stream to the other 15 companies if they can get their lawsuit in first before the poor end user goes bankrupt trying to keep up, and we’ll really be in trouble…)

  1. After all, they had logged them clicking on the I Agree button in their EULA. What more evidence did they need?