What you need to know:
A growing number of smart home devices are capable of gathering information about your movements and daily behavior within the home. In addition to TVs, voice assistants and security cameras, other “smart” home devices can include: thermostats, locks, scales, light switches, ceiling fans, vacuums, air conditioners and various appliances.
These smart home devices need to gather certain information to work properly and to improve their performance, but most consumers are not aware of all the data points that are collected and then sent back to the manufacturer. For example, door sensors can reveal when you enter or leave the house, light switches can show your movement between rooms and vacuums can map out your home.
Generally, if a device can transmit data its likely gathering it. Such information can seem mundane, but when combined and paired with other information, can help fill out a record of behaviors in the home, which can become valuable data to a variety of third parties. In fact, one smart vacuum company publicly stated interest in selling it’s user data to tech companies. In addition, if these devices are connected to and controlled by voice assistants and hubs, that data is already in the hands of the large tech companies that produce them.
Beyond data collection, many of these devices have security flaws that can lead to unauthorized access or compromised home networks. Many instances of smart technology enabled abuse, spying and harassment have occurred since these devices have exploded in popularity. In addition, some devices have had security flaws that allow hackers to install spyware and malicious firmware in home Wifi networks, which can compromise all devices connected to it.
These types of vulnerabilities have even led the FBI and NSA to directly warn consumers. With the FBI recommending that these devices be put on a separate wifi network, away from primary devices such as laptops and smartphones. Similarly, the NSA has warned that connected devices can serve as entry points for adversaries to attack networks, particularly as China has become increasingly dominant in the production of these devices.
The privacy concerns around smart home devices
How smart home devices can lead to crimes like domestic abuse
Roomba may one day share your data
How researchers found vulnerabilities in Philip Hue smart light bulbs that can lead to compromised networks
What to do:
Try using this IoT Inspector developed by Princeton to see which of your devices are tracking you.
When purchasing new smart home devices, use this guide from Mozilla on which ones meet their minimum-security standards.
For existing devices, ensure you have a strong custom password for each device (consider using a password manager). Also, perform software updates as often as available, and put these devices on a separate Wifi network .