Amazon Smart Homes, Smart Devices: A Privacy Nightmare?

By Margaret Wollensak, The Epoch Times
May 17, 2018 1:28 pm Last Updated: May 17, 2018 2:00 pm

Amazon wants us to be “smarter.” Specifically, it wants our lives and everything in it to be Internet-connected in the Internet-of-Things (IoT).

Imagine a smart home with smart locks, smart thermostats, smart lights, and smart cameras—all controlled by a voice-activated digital assistant. It exists.

Amazon.com, Inc. and Lennar Corp. have created Amazon Experience Centers, demo model homes in the U.S. where people can see a fully Alexa-integrated connected home in action.

Smart homes may be designed for convenience, but the technologies that powers the homes’ smart devices also listen, collect, and store all the information they are given.

This means the homes are always listening.

The data from smart homes is more granular than data from website trackers, CBC’s senior technology reporter Matthew Braga told CBC in the above video. This means you can drill down deeper into someone’s life.

For example, a site can only guess based on websites it has tracked, whether or not you are energy-conscious at home. A smart home would know exactly how much power you really use.

The habits and actions of people in their homes is valuable for companies, especially for Amazon who cannot obtain the information elsewhere, according to CNBC.

Why Is This a Big Deal for Users?

For starters, some say it is a huge privacy concern.

There is currently a lack of regulation and standardization when it comes to smart homes and smart devices. It is unclear whether users would have access or control over how all the data that gets collected about themselves gets used.

Europe’s personal data privacy legislation, General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), may mitigate some of these concerns when it comes into force on May 25.

In the video, Braga points out that what a lot of companies say is that they don’t sell or share any personally identifiable information. They strip out personal information and package it together with other data they collect, and that’s what they end up sharing.

However, devices themselves can pose security vulnerabilities.

For example, because IoT devices encode the physical world in network traffic, they present a novel privacy threat to consumers. Network traffic rates can reveal user activities, so encryption does not provide adequate privacy protection for smart homes, according to a study published by the Federal Trade Commission.

Also, there are ethical dilemmas.

While homeowners may give their consent to be tracked, it would be a challenge to get other people in their lives to give consent as well. For example, people such as family, friends, and even delivery people could inevitably be tracked without their consent.

With files from CBC