You might have heard the term “Internet of Things” thrown around by annoying tech people. It’s a terrible name for the equally terrible idea of connecting regular household items like your refrigerator, air conditioner, front door, coffee maker, shower, lamps, etc. to the Internet. Why on earth would you want to do that? Because you are incredibly lazy and have a lot of money to waste.
Well, supposedly the point is convenience. You can automate certain things like turning your lights on and off at certain times of the day or automatically brewing your coffee before you even get out of bed. This also involves a healthy dose of “because we can.” It’s really not that difficult or inconvenient to turn on your coffee maker or turn off a lamp unless you have some kind of great physical disability that makes these tasks nearly impossible to do on your own. For the people inventing this technology, it’s more of a matter of thinking, “Hey. We live in the future now, we might as well have smart houses.”
You can use a mobile app to set your air conditioner to heat or cool your house depending on when you’ll be home, another app will automatically lock your front door when you’re unsure if you remembered to do so that morning. You can get a refrigerator that will keep stock of its own contents and automatically add items to your shopping list when you are running low on anything. Soon there will be smart toasters and smart rice cookers and smart cat litter boxes and who knows what else. I will admit, it does have some promise for the aforementioned physically disabled or people who have poor motor skills and can’t easily write their own shopping list or bend over to clean the cat litter.
As much as it sounds like an interesting futuristic innovation to have all of your appliances hooked up to Wi-Fi, it leaves your home vulnerable to a whole host of privacy and security issues. Remember a couple of years ago when baby monitors equipped with webcams were all the rage? That only lasted until it was revealed that the camera feeds were easily accessible by tech-savvy weirdos and the images of random children were being broadcast across the internet for any creeps to watch. These same dudes would probably be interested to know what you’re saying to your Amazon Echo too (and so would the NSA).
Of course, remotely accessing a video of your sleeping child is significantly different from something like your weekly grocery shopping list or how well-done you like your toast, but it can still be creepy. If someone really wanted to, they’d probably find a way to mess with you by setting your central heating to 90 degrees while you’re on vacation for a week so they can laugh when you get the insane electric bill. More nefariously, if your doors are equipped with automatic locks, there could be a way in just by installing a simple malware program.
Probably the biggest, most immediate concerns however, would simply be privacy. How much of your very personal information might be gathered for marketing purposes? We already allow Facebook and Google to have so much information about who we are. What if suddenly Amazon knows that you go through unusual amounts of toilet paper for a single person and you start seeing targeted advertisements on your computer for local gastrointestinal specialists? Or perhaps they’ve noticed that you fill your fridge with beer every Friday and it’s all gone by Monday. You may start to see ads pop up for rehab or counseling centers. The amount of beer or toilet paper you use each week should be between you and the bag boy at Publix who’s probably too stoned to notice what you’re buying.
Even if the Internet of Things seems relatively harmless at the moment, it leaves a door open for future innovations that could get pretty strange and personal. You might not be too concerned about someone knowing what you like to eat or how frequently you shower, but if this technology starts to go too far, it might be tough to put a stop to it. When your Wi-Fi enabled pillow is keeping track of your brain waves and using the data to insert subliminal marketing messages into your subconscious mind while you snooze, perhaps then it will be too late to turn back and disconnect ourselves.
Perhaps by then no one will care because we will all be so unfazed by regular privacy invasions that nothing will be private anymore anyway. Welcome to the future!