Shh... Somebody's Listening: Smart Home Devices and AI

Informative Article


Although robot uprisings make for an interesting movie plot, how should we feel about the potentially robot controlled world we live in?


Artificial Intelligence has become a topic of controversy in recent decades, especially since the arrival of smart home devices, such as Google Home, Alexa, Siri, smart lock, smartwatch, etc.


Although these devices improve productivity and efficiency, people are uncertain about the dangers they present. Will our world be ruled by AI like WALL-E, The Matrix, and Terminator?

Here’s where this trilemma is presented: Do the benefits of AI outweigh the risks, do the risks outweigh the benefits or are you willing to compromise?


The Benefits to Smart Home Devices


Smart Home devices have numerous benefits that improve our lifestyles and our world. For instance, an article by Interesting Engineer stated that smart home devices provide rapid emergency responses with their smart locks and security cameras. Furthermore, smart devices provide a comfortable and remotely controlled lifestyle, with home assistance offering more time to relax. Additionally, smart home devices provide their customers with the security they need by updating them regarding issues around the house. For example, water sensors can alert customers of any water leaks that can potentially be dangerous.


Smart home devices contain environmental benefits as well. According to an article by ecoMENA, home devices help conserve energy more efficiently than other daily life activities. Temperature regulators, smart irrigation, lighting systems, and window treatments help conserve energy by automatically turning off said devices when not in use, and saving 10-30% on energy bills.


Even after all the benefits these devices offer, one might question the lack of privacy that comes with them. Concerns have been expressed regarding the fact that these home devices could be listening in on conversations even when not in use, and therefore, stealing personal information. However, Google has responded to these concerns stating that Google Home, one of the more popular smart devices, does not record all conversations and never sells customers’ information to another individual or business. They have ensured that “by default [they] do not retain your audio recording. [Although] you can decide to save your audio to make google speech products more helpful to you”


The Dangers to Smart Home Devices


Although Smart Home devices provide users with better surveillance, a comfortable lifestyle, and 24/7 home assistance, the companies that sell these devices do not mention the security threats that these smart devices offer. A user can face security threats from these devices in two different ways. One, from the device itself, and the other from hackers who breach the security systems these devices provide.


Shortly after the Google Home Mini was released in 2017, Google faced backlash after reports blamed the product for recording conversations and reporting them back to Google. The Amazon Echo Dot was accused of having recorded a couple and sending the audio file to their contact list.


Additionally, hackers who are able to gain access to these home devices can cause a number of security threats including data and identity theft, a vulnerability in a user’s own home, and location tracking.


These smart home devices have a set of permissions that allow it to take control of tasks, like temperature, lighting, and security controls. Therefore, when cybercriminals hack into this system, they basically get control of the entire house. According to the New York Times, Ashley LeMay and Dylan Blakeley, a Mississippian couple, encountered a similar situation: 4 days after installing a Ring device in their 8-year-old daughter’s bedroom, the device started to play “Tiptoe through the Tulips” to an empty room. Their daughter, who came into the room to check on the music, was cursed at by a man who claimed he was Santa Claus. The girl immediately ran out of the room, screaming for her mother. This problem has since been resolved by Amazon, but nonetheless, many other people have reported similar breaches of security.


Josefine Brown, a woman who experienced a similar situation, exclaimed her worry: “we are very concerned about our safety and privacy because we thought having a security camera would keep us safe. We don’t know how long someone has been watching us. It is very scary.”