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Are Smart Home Devices Spying On Us?

Smart home

A recent investigation by a British consumer review magazine has confirmed what growing numbers of “civilians” fear: Our smart home devices are spying on us.

Hackers can watch you through your security cameras; your smart TV has tentacles that would make an octopus jealous and an advertising agent drool; even your electric toothbrush might breech more than your teeth.

Conducted by the UK’s Which? Magazine, the investigation found televisions selling viewing data to advertisers, toothbrushes accessing smartphone microphones and listening to your conversations, and security cameras providing eyes and ears on people in the privacy of their homes.

All told, the investigation analyzed 19 different smart devices, showing that—in the UK alone, 20 companies (not including the device manufacturers themselves) were on the receiving end of data transfers.

The companies spanned market segments, from social media providers and third-party monitoring services to advertising companies and marketing data brokers.

Perhaps most alarmingly, a single device analyzed—a smart TV--connected to more than 700 distinct internet addresses after being used for only 15 minutes.

So, what’s ‘smart’ for the corporate world that’s dying to get to know you better for laser-accuracy marketing schemes, isn’t necessarily ‘smart’ for anyone who’s keen on privacy. Related: The New Growth Runway That Apple Can Exploit

A recent incident with Amazon’s Echo is a case in point. The much-loved smart device recorded a family’s private conversation and sent the audio file to a person in the family’s contact list. In the realm of echoes, this was a loud one.

And issues of data privacy are bound to get much more significant …

According to a recent report, the global smart home market is expected to exceed $53.45 Billion by 2022, growing at a compounded annual growth rate (CAGR) of just over 14.5 percent between 2017 and 2022.

And if people in the UK are worried about letting big brother into their homes, North America should be double so: The continent is expected to be the largest market for smart home products.

Research earlier this year found that almost 60 percent of homes are expected to own at least one smart device by 2022, while 26 percent of homes currently own at least one type of smart home product. Last year, in United States alone, around 35.9 million smart home devices (not including smart TVs) and 3.1 million smart home controllers were sold.

Europe, at least, is bothered by this.

On May 25, the European Union introduced General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) rules, seeking to protect the digital rights of EU citizens through stricter data laws and greater oversight of how companies manage that personal data. Related: Trump’s Trade War Turns Allies Into Enemies

Media reported that quite a few devices stopped working after companies failed to comply to the new rules. One Chinese smart bulb manufacturer sent a message to users that its light bulbs no longer functioned properly as a result of GDPR compliance.

So how can we enjoy smart devices without being stupid with our data?

Experts encourage us to check ‘permissions’ on devices, and turn them off when they aren’t absolutely necessary. Changing ‘Alexa’s’ name might also help.

But the best defense, of course, is considering whether you really need a smart device at all, and how much privacy you are willing to give up in the name of convenience.

This is the age of the data breach, from social media scandals to smart home devices—and it’s nothing if not personal.

In United States, since 2005 there have been almost 8,200 data breaches which have exposed more than 1.05 billion records. Just in 2017, there was total of 1,579 data breaches. The number of annual breaches increased 45 percent over the previous record in 2016.

By Damir Kaletovic for Safehaven.com

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