People in San Francisco are apparently being abused by means of their smart home tech system!
As it turns out, Internet of Things products like speakers, thermostats, lights and cameras, which have been popularised as the newest conveniences, are ironically being used as a means for harassment, monitoring and revenge.
A recently released New York Times report reveals that people from the city have been calling help hotlines and domestic violence shelters to complain against the abuse caused via their smart home tech.
“One woman had turned on her air-conditioner but said it then switched off without her touching it. Another said the code numbers of the digital lock at her front door changed every day and she could not figure out why. Still, another told an abuse helpline that she kept hearing the doorbell ring, but no one was there,” the report reads.
Apparently, ‘abusers’ who use the connected apps of these devices, remotely control everyday objects in the home, using it to watch and listen, or to ‘scare or show power’.
Reportedly, some people were using the devices to intimidate or confuse their partners even after they left home.
The NYT report also mentions, Graciela Rodriguez, who runs an emergency shelter in California, who said that some people had come into the shelter with tales of “the crazy-making things” like thermostats suddenly kicking up to 100 degrees or smart speakers turning on blasting music.
In another interview with the publication, Muneerah Budhwani, who takes calls at a domestic violence helpline, said that smart home technology-related complaints have been coming in since 2017-end. Budhwani said that "abusers were monitoring and controlling them remotely through the smart home appliances and the smart home system".
And the lack of knowledge of how the smart technology works, how much power the other person has over these devices, is only making things worse. Those consumers facing the abuse of these smart home tech products are unaware of how to legally deal with this kind of behaviour and how to make it stop.
Smart home gadget makers such as Amazon (Echo line up), Google (Home line up) and Nest (thermostats) say they haven't received any complaints of users facing harassment due to remote take over of their smart home devices. Technically, these gadgets can be disabled through reset buttons and by changing a home’s Wi-Fi password. But this again comes back to the lack of awareness regarding how to use these products.
According to gadget makers, making it easier to switch who controls the account associated with smart home devices, will make it easier for hackers to access the system.
Is it time to debate deep integration of technology in our lives, once again?