Your Smart Home Products May Be Sharing Information About You

There are often stories regarding phone manufacturers’ reluctance to allow the government to access your phone – specifically with Apple. But really, cell phones aren’t the only devices that have our information. Smart home products have a lot of information on you as well. Is your smart home information being shared?

It’s hard to avoid the allure of smart home products. They make life so much easier, whether it’s a smart speaker, smart TV, robot vacuum, thermostat, or video doorbell.

And face it: what makes them “smart” is that they know how to help you specifically. Not people in general, but you. And the reason behind that is because you have fed it your information.

Smart speakers know everything you ask them to do, smart TVs know all the entertainment you watch and listen to, robot vacuums know your home and your schedule, thermostats know your schedule as well, and video doorbells/security cameras know everything.

Government agencies and the law enforcement are beginning to rely on that information as a credible source, but while the manufacturers of these devices are sometimes willing to give out that information, they aren’t always willing to let you know that they’re giving out your information.

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The answer to this question is only one, Google’s Nest. They have published a transparency report regarding how many requests they have received. They have given up user data close 300 times since mid-2015 on more than 500 users. One of those requests led to gang members pleading guilty to identity theft.

With the other device manufacturers not releasing the same information, TechCrunch asked them if they plan to also release a transparency report or if they were willing to say how many demands they have had to release their data on users.

Amazon did not respond to TechCrunch’s request of how many demands they have received for Echo data and said last year they would not be releasing the figures. Even though Google published the Nest report, it won’t comment on its other devices, including Google Home products.

Home security product manufacturers Honeywell and Canary did not comment by TechCrunch’s deadline, and Samsung also didn’t respond.

Facebook, who has just released their Portal device, said its report will include “any requests related to Portal,” but not if those figures will be separate.

Apple said they don’t need to release that data on devices that include the HomePod, as user requests that are received by the HomePod are given a random identifier, and that can’t be tied to a user, so they don’t have anything to include in a transparency report.

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Smart lock maker August explained they don’t currently have a transparency report, but they’ve never received National Security Letters or orders under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance act. They’re not commenting, though, on how many subpoenas, warrants, and other types of court orders they have received. iRobot, who makes the Roomba, also said they haven’t received requests.

Arlo and Signify, the former Netgear smart home division and former Philips Lighting, respectively, do not have transparency reports.

Smart doorbell and security device manufacturer Ring didn’t answer why it doesn’t have reports but indicated they “will not release user information without a valid and binding legal demand properly served on us” and that the company “objects to overbroad and otherwise inappropriate demands.” They do plan to release a report in the future.

Smart switches and sensors manufacturer Ecobee says they will publish their first transparency report at the end of the year and admit that prior to this year they hadn’t received any requests and weren’t required to disclose that data.

Maybe smart home products are too smart. They are obviously holding data on their users, other than Apple, so many people would say that’s a user’s bad for naively trusting them. Others, though, will claim they have nothing to hide, so it really doesn’t matter.

Does it matter to you if your smart home device is giving up its information on you? Does that factor into whether or not you’ll purchase a smart home device? Are you worried about what smart home information could divulge about you? Tell us how you feel about smart homes giving up information about you in the comments below.

5 comments

  1. “It’s hard to avoid the allure of smart home products.”
    Not really. All you have to do is to resist the twin siren calls of “convenience” and “me-too-ism”.

    “They make life so much easier”
    They may make life more convenient but, OTOH, they cause ulcers from worrying about security. Unless, of course, you are one of the “I have nothing to hide” people, otherwise known as “victims”.

    “Does it matter to you if your smart home device is giving up its information on you?”
    It matters in principle. It does not matter in practice because I do not, and will not, own any smart devices. I do not find that doing things for myself so onerous that I have have gizmos do them for me. Besides, owning a smart toilet and/or a smart bidet is the height of overindulgence IMO.

    The price of convenience is security and privacy.

    • Using a term like “me-too-ism” to define the use of smart home products is the wrong space and wrong time. I get that you’re a man and would have no idea what it feels like to be sexually assaulted, the definition of “me-too-ism” for the past year, but to say that in the company of women is what looks to be an intentional insult diminishing women’s feeling in that movement. Therefore, the whole rest of your argument is lost.

      • Methinks the lady doth protest too much.

        I support the #MeToo movement and its objectives. They are doing a great job. However, the use of “me-too” predates the #MeToo slogan by many years. It has always meant a copy-cat behavior. Just by creating and using the slogan, women did not acquire the exclusive right to use the phrase. I understand the issue is painful to you. But if we were to forbid the use of all phrases and words that form the slogans of various movements and cause, we would be reduce to communicating in grunts. Nobody owns a language.

        “the whole rest of your argument is lost.”
        Only if you read into it what isn’t there. If, in your opinion, my use of the term “me-too-ism” diminishes the movement in any way, then your commitment to the movement is not that strong. Have a little faith. #MeToo will not only survive but it will get much stronger, no matter who uses “me-too” for whatever purpose.

        • Certainly. Saying “Me too” does pre-date the #MeToo movement, but not in the way it was used above. Sometimes words can have a powerful effect, and I think your words had the effect you wanted.

          • I understand the issue is a sensitive one for you but I think you are reading way too much into what I wrote. I can assure you that the only people I meant to deride is the mindless copycats. Writing “me-too” is much simpler than writing “keeping up with the Joneses”. Had I known I would get this reaction from you, I would have written the latter rather then the former.

            Would you forbid the use of the word “oven” because of its connotations to the Jewish community? Or the word “rope” because what it connotes to African-Americans?

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