Digital Living: With Internet-Enabled Devices, The Smart Home Is The Tattletale House

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Walls have ears 1
Do the walls have ears? Is your home listening in on you? It might be if you use “smart home” devices, says Jon Anderson. And they could be storing everything.

In Edgar Allen Poe’s Tell-Tale Heart, the writer gets away with murder, boasting at seating detectives above the buried body while being interviewed. Good planning and credible acting were all that were required.

In Arkansas, a murder case is winding through the courts.  Three men watched sports, got drunk, hit the hot tub and the next morning one was dead.  The homeowner is suspected of the killing that he says was an accident that happened while he was sleeping. The homeowner is also a gadget guy with many “smart” appliances attached to the internet.  One is Amazon’s Echo running the Alexa personal assistant (think Siri).

Voice activated devices are like dogs listening to hear “walkies” so they can spring into action. Only unlike dogs, these devices are also recording. Manufacturers say they only record the actual interaction (the question and answer), but honestly, who’s to say?

Because the recordings are stored indefinitely by Amazon (and others), prosecutors subpoenaed Amazon for the recordings (especially interested in captured background noise).  Amazon refused (trolling your life is their business).  Earlier this month, the homeowner (presumably having reviewed the recordings) allowed their release to police.

Other devices in this case tattled easier. A smart water meter/heater told of large water usage near the time of the death. Prosecutors think it’s a sign someone was cleaning away evidence.

At a recent home remodeling trade show, the Hestan Que was launched. A single-burner induction heating element and frying pan that are Bluetooth enabled and connect with your cell phone. The idea is to look up recipes on your phone while an app communicates with the cooktop to adjust temperature. The app now knows who you are, what types of food you cook, how many servings you prepare, how often you cook and how healthy you eat … and I’m sure a raft of other information all gathered and packaged together.

On a more titillating (wrong end) salacious note, last week a sex toy maker Standard Innovation was forced to pay customers $10,000 each for harvesting customers usage data without their consent … dates, times, duration, mode, etc. all attached to users’ email addresses. Why? Market research and data gathering.

Poe would be no match for the smart home.

There are two issues here. The security of the data being collected … and that the data is being collected at all.

Internet of Things (IoT) is the umbrella for smart devices
Internet of Things (IoT) is the umbrella for smart devices

Cards on The Table

I’ve never been a fan of “the cloud” or “smart” anything (except some “asses”).  You see, I work in technology and have never been comfortable with the level of trade-off and intrusion that goes along with these “innovations.” Once data is outside your control, it’s gone.

I also believe technology is neither good nor bad, it’s all in how it’s used.  Long ago, Molly Ivins described government as a hammer.  You could either build or destroy with it. Same thing.

What do the answers tell Amazon about you that they can use?
What do the answers tell Amazon about you that they can use?

Siri, Echo/Alexa, Cortana, et. al.

You all think Siri is a wonder. Ask her anything, she’s got an answer.  The fact that every inquiry, every transcription is stored indefinitely by Apple and used to map your personal life in order to package you up for advertisers is largely lost by an enthralled public.

Siri isn’t alone.  Every voice-activated gadget you use is listening and potentially recording.  It’s all in those terms and conditions no one reads that give companies the right to take what they want. It’s their pound of flesh for using their technology.

What do they get from listening?  Tons.  Brand names, music, vacation destinations, and people you talk or complain about. The rhythm of your home … who lives there, when is each member home, when do you entertain, who do you entertain, what you serve. Speech and facial recognition continues to improve to match.  At some point everything you utter and everything you do will be recorded by someone.  Crazy?  I wish.  Big Brother? Yes.

And you gave it away.

Nest 1

Feathering Their Nest

In the home, we can laugh at the early attempts to internet-enable refrigerators with screens on the door we could check email on … probably AOL email.  Nest, the internet-connected thermostat, helped change that.  Their ads were everywhere (the joy of investor money).

I’ll admit the ability to raise and lower my home’s temperature via an app seemed fabulously idiotic, but consumers seemed to eat it up … and so did Google. In 2014, four years after its founding, Google acquired Nest for $3.2 billion … to enter your home.

Note: In 2016, Forrester Research estimated only about 6 percent of American homes use any internet connected home products and that’s only expected to grow to 15 percent by 2021 … but that’s still tripling original numbers.

Google generates 90 percent of their $75 billion in revenues from advertising … you. They’re more sophisticated at combing through your life than even I can imagine.  Did you know that since its founding, Google has not discarded a single search you’ve performed?

Ask yourself, if Google would pay $3.4 billion to get a toehold into your home, what’s it worth to follow you around everywhere you go? The answer is now being played out in the smart and autonomous vehicle market.

Someone said that Google, Apple and Amazon are really just the NSA for profit.  That’s always stuck with me.

Secure as a Sieve

The internet offers no privacy and certainly no security.  I’m amazed at people who abandon any company that gets hacked.  At some point, they’ll all be hacked.

Smart home devices are particularly vulnerable.  Assuming you’re OK with the data siphoning, these devices are often not encrypted and have tons of security holes. Certainly the recent “gift” from Wikileaks on the government’s ability to pierce any data stream … including the “impenetrable” iPhone … is evidence of that.

Be Vigilant

Before you invest in this smart technology, understand the risks and benefits.  At the very least, be wary of every “smart” TV, camera, thermostat, remote power outlet, lawn sprinkler, door lock, home alarm, and even garage door opener.

For most people, avoiding the internet isn’t feasible. But vigilance is.

Recently an SMU student asked me about my major in Marketing so many years ago.  I told him I’d choose a different field today. Marketing’s creativity has been replaced by creepy.

Think I’m a digital hypochondriac? Read this New York Times article and send me a note at 3:00am when you can’t sleep.


Remember:  High-rises, HOAs and renovation are my beat. But I also appreciate modern and historical architecture balanced against the YIMBY movement.  If you’re interested in hosting a Staff Meeting event, I’m your guy. In 2016, my writing was recognized with Bronze and Silver awards from the National Association of Real Estate Editors.  Have a story to tell or a marriage proposal to make?  Shoot me an email


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Jon Anderson

Jon Anderson is's condo/HOA and developer columnist, but also covers second home trends on An award-winning columnist, Jon has earned silver and bronze awards for his columns from the National Association of Real Estate Editors in both 2016, 2017 and 2018. When he isn't in Hawaii, Jon enjoys life in the sky in Dallas.

Reader Interactions


  1. LonestarBabs says

    Loved this in your article: “Recently an SMU student asked me about my major in Marketing so many years ago. I told him I’d choose a different field today. Marketing’s creativity has been replaced by creepy.” I’ve been in marketing for over 30 years and am vigorously nodding my head in agreement.

  2. CRITIC says

    I filed my tax return on March 7 thru TURBOTAX on line.
    Can you imagine what TURBOTAX & The IRS does with my information?
    My tax return was accepted within a few hours by the IRS stating my refund would be deposited on line to my checking account on March 28. Imagine my surprise to find my IRS refund deposited into my checking account on March 15! Either the IRS has gotten very efficient or most taxpayers must be delaying filing until mid April

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