Yesterday I was startled to hear my Amazon Echo say, out of nowhere, “Okay, I’ll add [not sure what she said]
to your shopping list.” Worried I had just inadvertently asked for Prime delivery on some random $200 tchotchke, I checked the app—Alexa had added “kidney c.c.,” “marijuana,” and “golden notes to the recruiter” to my shopping list—none of which I asked for ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. What’s she been listening to, anyway?
It’s getting creepy out there. We at Wirecutter love the convenience of smart light bulbs
and smart locks
but we also approach them with a measure of concern about the safety of our privacy and security. As our smart-home writer Rachel Cericola writes
, these devices can make your home vulnerable to digital intrusions from prying eyes. This Opinion piece by The New York Times
(Wirecutter’s parent company) talks about how easy it is for a bounty hunter to buy location information from cellphone carriers to track a person down. This great CNET piece
reports that facial recognition in devices like the Nest Cam IQ, Honeywell Smart Home Security, and even the Sony Aibo robot dog don’t comply with Illinois’s Biometric Information Privacy Act, which “defines ‘biometric identifiers’ as retina scans, iris scans, fingerprints, hand scans, face scans and voiceprints.” As reported in The New York Times
, cameras have been installed (but not yet activated, so they say) on planes. And, I’m alarmed by the idea that my DNA
could be used to implicate a member of my family
—for generations to come—in a crime, with companies like FamilyTreeDNA voluntarily giving law enforcement access
to the personal data they’ve been entrusted with.
I talked to our smart-home team, Rachel and editor Jon Chase, about Wirecutter’s approach to understanding the risks. If we were to write up a “Why you should trust us” chapter for the whole smart-home section, we’d say that we:
1. Engage every company we review to understand their privacy practices in detail.
2. Keep up with the ever-changing news.
3. Update our guides constantly to reflect what we have learned.
Jon said, “Currently, when we select new products for testing, we send a detailed privacy and security questionnaire to every company involved, far in advance of publication.” We don’t expect you to read your terms of service in detail, even though we do. We look for the information being collected—such as photos, audio, location—and we find out whether or not companies are sharing those details with third parties.
We’ll be encouraging companies to be more transparent and to push information out. “If there’s a problem with your car, you get a recall notice and directions for fixing it. It would be great if such universal standards and systems existed for smart home, too,” said Jon.
For the latest updates, check out The Best Plug-In Smart Outlet
and Do You Need a Smart-Home Hub?
And for more tips from Jon on how to stay safe out there, check out our video
PSA: Game of Thrones
premieres tonight. Also, tax day is tomorrow. You probably already knew that, but just in case. And finally, National Park entrance fees
will be waived on Saturday, April 20. Get out there!