9 Ways Your Home May Be Spying on You
Here’s how your smart refrigerator, laptop, and TV are keeping an eye on you, and what you can do about it.
While smart home devices may make the daily flow of our lives easier and our homes more secure, in some cases we’re compromising our privacy to gain these benefits. Examples abound of smart devices being used to spy on their owners. There’s the story of a Ring camera being used to terrorize toddlers, and the ADT technician who spied on his female customers. More recently, a Eufy security camera customer discovered that customer camera footage was publicly accessible via cloud storage. Unfortunately, cameras are just one of many devices under the Internet of Things that collect data from us and use it in ways we aren’t aware of. Your laptops, modems, and refrigerators are also collecting information from you. Here are some of the ways the devices and appliances in your home are spying on you.
1. Security Cameras
Security cameras are supposed to keep your home more secure, but sometimes they do the opposite. Such is the case in a recent court filing by the Federal Trade Commission that alleges home security company Ring allowed subcontractors and employees total access to customers’ cameras, some of which were placed in bathrooms and bedrooms. While you can’t eliminate the threat of your camera spying on you, you can make it much harder. Make sure you change the default password on your camera, use two-factor authentication, keep your firmware up to date, and avoid placing cameras in sensitive areas of your home.
2. Your Laptop
While that camera on the display of your laptop computer may be vital for Zoom calls, it can also be a means for someone to spy on you. Some malware and computer viruses allow hackers to gain access to that camera and hence video footage of you. They can even prevent you from discovering that your computer’s camera is on by disabling the LED recording light. A simple way to thwart this breach of privacy is to close the camera cover (if your laptop has one) or simply place a small Post-it note over it when it’s not in use.
3. Smart TVs
Most of us rely on smart TVs to fill all our demands for streaming entertainment, delivering our music playlists from Pandora and Spotify and our favorite TV shows and movies from Netflix, Hulu, and other services. But while smart TVs are entertaining you on screen, behind the scenes they’re collecting data on your viewing habits through a technology called automatic content recognition (ACR). This technology allows the manufacturer to gather data on what you’re viewing. The company then uses that information to suggest related programming you might like and send you targeted ads from a whole host of advertisers. It’s possible to opt out of ACR, but most TV manufacturers make it difficult to do so by intentionally burying this option in their privacy settings.
4. Smart Meters
Smart meters make your home more efficient by allowing you to monitor your energy usage in real time and make changes accordingly to lower your electricity bill. They can even make your home safer from potential fire by letting you know if you left that curling iron on. Unfortunately, reports are emerging that smart meter companies can use the data to find out if you’re on your computer, watching TV, or drying your hair, and then use those habits to create a profile for marketing purposes.
5. Home Security Systems
While home security systems help to protect your family and property from would-be thieves, they also collect a long list of data from you. This information includes Social Security numbers, payment information, and email addresses. Some companies also log video and audio footage collected from your home security devices. While most security companies say they use this data only internally to target services to their customers, this sensitive information is vulnerable in the event that the security company itself gets hacked, as was the case with Wyze a few years ago.
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6. Your Modem
Most of us know that our ISP is tracking which websites we visit and then selling that browsing data so others can target us with advertisements. What you may not know is that they can use that information they get from your modem in other ways. They can monitor how much data you’re using and then cut your connection speed down in a practice referred to as “throttling” if they feel your Netflix binge-watching or gaming marathon is hogging bandwidth. For a little peace of mind, you can make your activity invisible to your ISP by adding a virtual private network (VPN).
7. Smart Refrigerators
If you consider that companies want to know all about what you’re buying and using on a day-to-day basis, then a smart refrigerator with an internal camera looking at what you have inside offers a treasure trove of data. Your smart fridge may also be monitoring family conversations that take place while you’re cooking breakfast. Luckily, legislation is in the works to let you know exactly what cameras or microphones are in your new household items.
8. Smart Vacuum
As your robot vacuum cleaner makes its way around your home, it draws a map of the layout in order to avoid objects and walls. This is sensitive data you certainly wouldn’t want to share with anyone else. What’s more, newer models have cameras to improve their ability to navigate, and some have added features that alert occupants to hazards. Though companies such as iRobot, the maker of Roomba, don’t currently share customer data with third parties, they have said it is a possibility in the future.
While that printer sitting innocuously on your desk may seem harmless, it’s actually busily collecting data and potentially sending it off to the manufacturer. It isn’t archiving the actual content of what you’re printing, but it is recording the number of pages you’re printing, what brand ink or toner you’re using, the applications you’re printing from, the computer you’re using to print, when you’re printing, and what size files you’re printing. If you’re not comfortable sharing this information, then consider using your printer offline by connecting it to your computer via a cable instead of your home’s Wi-Fi.