The nuclear option isn’t the only way to prevent your smart home from spying on you, so breathe a sigh of relief that you can still keep your favorite smart home gadgets. However, you may want to spend a little more time learning how your devices work, checking settings, and reducing how often your devices are checking in on you.
What’s the Big Deal
It’s not just hackers that want your data. Of course, hackers also want to use your devices to spy on you as much as possible. Even if they can’t get in, major companies are gathering data about your activities. While some of this is used to personalize your experience, that’s not all it’s used for. Even if you’re not actively using your devices, they may still be gathering data to help companies better understand their audiences, provide personalized ads, and even sell data to other companies for targeted marketing.
Right now, you’re probably thinking this just sounds like a normal day of browsing on Google and Facebook. However, do you really want that type of invasivness throughout your home and not just on your phone or computer? Plus, what happens if those companies get hacked? Suddenly, hackers know way too much about your home, your daily routines, and other highly personal details.
Smart home devices will never be completely private. After all, virtual assistants have to listen all the time, otherwise they’d never hear their wake words. When users found out that employees were listening to random recorded conversations with virtual assistants, people were understandably upset. Google, Apple, Amazon, and Facebook all changed their policies to improve user privacy.
The problem is your devices need to spy on you to a point in order to personalize your experience. Some random strangers at big tech companies have to listen in sometimes to improve the AI features. But, while there are some privacy compromises, you can still prevent your smart home from spying on you somewhat.
Check Privacy Concerns
Before you buy any new smart devices, use Mozilla’s Privacy Not Included site to review privacy ratings for popular devices and gadgets. Higher-rated devices put privacy first, while lower-rated devices have major privacy flaws. At the time of writing, Mozilla ranked the Ring Indoor Cam and Facebook Portal as Super Creepy, the worst rating.
Also, read about any security features, such as encryption, custom security settings, ability to turn the devices off (without disconnecting from a power source), and the company’s history with user privacy. Let’s face it, Facebook has never been focused on privacy, so privacy concerns with the Facebook Portal are understandable.
Spying Concerns Are Valid
The FBI actually issued a warning about smart TVs concerning how your TV watches and listens to you. Of course, any network-connected device is also a potential target for hackers. So, this means hackers could watch and listen to you, too.
We’ve highlighted before how to adjust privacy settings depending on your smart TV model. For many, you only have the options to turn off ad data collection and/or all smart features.
Flaws in the hardware and software also lead to your gadgets spying on you. For instance, some robot vacuums not only cleaned up but also used their cameras to see everything in your home.
With all the focus on usability and convenience, brands haven’t really considered security. Of course, brands would rather collect data, even if it leaves you more vulnerable if hackers do gain access.
Prevent Your Smart Home from Spying
Your first line of defense is to carefully consider what you buy. Look for privacy features such as:
- Turning off or muting microphones
- Turning off cameras you don’t use, such as on your smart TV
- Encrypting data
- Ability to access and delete stored data, such as conversations
- Opting out of human review
- Ability to turn Wi-Fi access on and off
Take a look at all of the settings on your current smart home devices. Instead of just accepting the defaults, go through every setting to ensure it’s customized the way you want. Also, read those annoyingly long and boring privacy policies so you know what your device is collecting and why. You’ll also learn what your rights are concerning collected data.
Once you’ve customized your settings, there are a few more ways to prevent unauthorized smart home spying:
- Turn off your Wi-Fi when it’s not in use. Hackers can’t get in if there’s no connection.
- Position cameras towards walls or even place a piece of tape over them when not in use. For instance, you can turn your Facebook Portal away when you’re not using it and can close the camera on your Echo Show.
- Mute your virtual assistant microphone when it’s not in use if the feature is available.
- Turn off all smart capabilities on your TV if you’re not using those features.
- Use unique passwords for every device.
- Use a strong Wi-Fi password and never share it. Add a guest password for guests and then delete it when they’re gone.
- Update devices as updates are released to plug security holes and add new security features.
- Delete stored data at least monthly if the brand allows it.
It’s a give and take with smart home privacy. Be careful and take full advantage of all privacy and security settings. Don’t forget to check out some of the latest smart home security problems and how you can fix them.