Smart home security devices promise to radically improve our home security, giving us inexpensive options for 24/7 surveillance and alerts when our home environments are disturbed.
For example, you might have a camera at your doorstep, keeping an eye out for potential burglars and vandals, or a smart home speaker that keeps a mic on, in case of breaking glass or similar sounds of destruction. When coupled with a good home security plan in your area, you can rest assured that your home will be kept safe—or at least, you’ll get an alert if and when something goes wrong.
But with all those devices watching and listening in your home environment, should you be concerned about your privacy?
Breaking Down the Issue
Privacy in the age of the internet is complicated, so let’s break down the main areas of concern:
- Monitoring and data gathering. First, there’s the potential problem of a company remotely gathering data on you, your home, your habits, and your family. For example, Google Home (like most other smart speakers) proactively listens to your speech, gathering data on your search queries and commands to get a better picture of who you are as a consumer. Most reputable companies are proactive about explaining how, when, and why they gather this type of data. Sometimes, it’s buried in a lengthy “terms and conditions” document, and sometimes, it’s explained to you upfront. For the most part, companies want to gather this data automatically and in a way that protects your identity, for the sole purpose of providing you with better advertising or better understanding you as a customer. However, this can be problematic if your data is sold or lent to other companies, which could use it for completely different purposes. This may infringe upon your privacy, but it won’t be likely to infringe upon your safety.
- Unauthorized actions. There’s also the problem of devices taking action you didn’t authorize, which could violate your privacy in other ways. For example, there’s the story of an Amazon Echo sending a snippet of a private conversation to someone in the family’s contact list. This problem has two prerequisites; first, you need a device that has access to multiple functions, and second, you need a device that’s always listening for your commands. Many home security devices specialize in monitoring or protection, so for now, smart speakers are the biggest potential problem. Still, it’s unlikely that a device from a reputable company would issue a command without multiple stages of validation from a user, so you can counter it by paying careful attention to those points of validation.
- Cloud storage and accessibility. Then, there’s the bigger security risk—how your data is stored and/or accessed. Many smart home security devices upload and store monitoring data on cloud servers, or at least are capable of live streaming their feeds, so conceivably, a rogue third party could gain access to those data. For example, a flaw in Swann smart security cameras once allowed researchers to see through consumers’ internet-connected smart cameras. This is perhaps the greatest potential threat to consumer privacy, since it would allow video and/or audio access to consumers’ homes. This is especially problematic because there are multiple potential points of vulnerability; your device could be compromised, your provider’s cloud servers could be compromised, and any other device that shares a network with your home security device could be compromised.
The short answer is yes, home security tech could feasibly violate your privacy, but this isn’t a guarantee, nor are all breaches of privacy equal.
Evaluating Your Options
Your privacy will depend heavily on the type and number of devices in your home security network, so you’ll need to consider your options carefully. Choosing reputable providers, with a long history of solid online security and a strong commitment to consumer rights, will help you ensure that your data will be used responsibly—and that your cloud-stored data won’t be compromised.
You can also take measures as an individual to improve your privacy and security, such as by disabling functions you don’t want to be used against you, by securing your home network, and by using additional encryption features to guarantee your security.
Determining Your Priorities
With any smart home security device, you’re going to be making a compromise of privacy for some measure of security. It’s nearly impossible to gain additional home security without compromising something in return. What’s important is determining where your priorities lie, and making the decision that falls in line with those priorities. Do your research in advance, and choose the home security products that best align with your vision for “ideal” security and personal privacy.