Smart homes are dumb. There, I said it. I'm sure those involved in the nearly $1.5 billion dollar-a-year connected-home technology business in the United States won't be happy with my statement, but I'm sticking to my guns. So-called smart technology is not your friend.
I know, I know. There are those who can't imagine life without their voice-activated gizmo that turns on lights, the heating and cooling system or their home entertainment center. Others brag about their smart refrigerator that scans items and lets them know when to buy more. There is even a smart mattress that tracks "over 15 factors about your sleep and health, including REM sleep, deep sleep, heart rate and respiratory rate," according to the company website.
But guess what. All the information put into these technologies by you could then be extracted by law enforcement and used against you. This is not just a possibility; it's already happening.
If you are one of the approximately 39 million Americans who walk in the door and give their speaker gadget a command like "Turn on my lights and my music," you should know the technology tapes your voice command and uploads it to a remote server while it deciphers what you want. If there is background conversation, it tapes and stores that as well.
Also potentially working against you are the smart utility meters many companies are now installing in or just outside residences across the country. These devices monitor the water, electricity and gas consumption of a home right down to the day and hour.
With all this in mind, consider what happened to James Bates of Bentonville, Arkansas. After a night of heavy drinking and TV football, Bates phoned 911 to report that he'd found his friend, Victor Collins, floating face down in his outdoor hot tub, dead. When police arrived, they realized Bates' house and yard were outfitted with smart technologies that likely could bear witness to what had happened. They began to investigate all the clues they could find — both physical and technological.
When police learned that Bates' utility meter had measured water consumption between 1 and 3 a.m. far in excess of what he'd ever used before, detectives deduced there had been a bloody struggle and Bates had used the outdoor hose to wash away the evidence. He was arrested on murder charges and faced up to 40 years in prison.
The Bentonville police also subpoenaed Amazon for the voice-command files from Bates' Amazon Echo device to see if any conversations were captured on the night in question. Amazon stonewalled police, not wanting to upset a customer or set a time-consuming precedent, and finally, an exasperated Bates voluntarily waived his right to keep the information private. That was a clever move because his Echo recordings offered no suspicious information. The murder charge against Bates was ultimately dropped — after two years.
The point here, of course, is that your smart appliances could turn out to be an irrefutable witness against you.
Imagine the suspect who insists he was home in bed at the time of the crime. His smart mattress could prove he was lying. Or it could reveal he was home in bed shortly after the murder/hit and run/burglary, tossing and turning with a much-elevated heart rate. Suspicious!
Imagine the person who tells police she was home eating a bowl of cereal when the crime occurred. But information from her smart refrigerator could turn her into a suspect if it showed she had been warned days earlier that she was out of milk.
I don't want to live in a world in which my appliances spy on me. You won't ever catch me buying any of these highfalutin gadgets. I'm not swayed by the latest stats showing that 1 in 6 Americans now have a smart speaker to which they can shout out commands. I already have a car that conducts surveillance on me every time I get behind the wheel, alerting me with lane-departure warnings if I stray an inch. There are already too many public cameras capturing my activity, too many facial recognition devises at airports and other public places I go.
Nope, I don't need to pay good money and invite into my home even more intrusions. And I will never understand those who don't realize what they're giving up when they join the Orwellian-like technological march toward self-imposed surveillance.
Voice-activated appliances aren't lifestyle advancements that simply made life easier like, say, the television remote. Many of today's costly play toys have embedded microphones that capture your conversations and store them. And devices that measure your bodily functions, utility consumption or food intake can (and are) being used against you by technologically minded police officers. But what if those officers misinterpret the clues borne of this trendy new crime-fighting tool?
I say turn on your own lights and spare yourself the potential for invasion of privacy.
To find out more about Diane Dimond, visit her website at www.dianedimond.com. Her latest book, "Thinking Outside the Crime and Justice Box," is available on Amazon.com. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.