Products + Test-drives

When downloading a new "smart" app for your apartment means sacrificing your privacy

By Beth Stebner | October 13, 2015 - 2:59PM

Can a smart home ever be too smart?  

There's no doubt that home goods like automated systems that control your home’s heating, cooling, lighting, and locks are a major part of the ever-growing sector known as the "Internet of Things," a name given to objects like these that contain this kind of smart technology.

But growing right along with it has been consumers' willing to hand over sensitive data like user names, passwords, and credit card info. And according to Charles Givre, a data scientist at Booz Allen Hamilton, we've hit the point where all our gadgets and apps may be far smarter than we realize—or than we really want them to be.

Per ProPublica's article, Givre, who was presenting at a big data conference in New York last week, decided to look into how much data he was handing over to his myriad apps and services, and what he found was more than a little startling.

For instance, Wink, an app that talks to products around the home, also contains the login information for his social media apps and networks, while Nest, a home security system, also recorded temperatures, a habit that could indicate to any hypothetical hacker know when you are and aren't at home.

And, as ProPublica notes, even an app that monitors propane gas levels in a grill took it upon itself to log Givre's location with  GPS. "If you were to start aggregating this over time, you could get a frighteningly accurate picture of pretty much where I am at any given time of day," he says, adding that he really just wants to raise awareness of what the possible downsides are to interconnectivity. 

In other words, yes, it may be convenient that a single app controls every part of your house, but what if the password—along with your personal information—were to be compromised?  

The startup companies in question told ProPublica that they didn’t recommend users handing out passwords to others (uh, thanks for the insider tip?), and that the information they gave the apps was secure.

In other words, in exchange for the convenience, you'll pretty much just have to trust them. And if current trends are any indication, many consumers are more than willing to strike that bargain.


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