Smarthome Devices Offer Many Benefits, Raise Privacy Concerns

As was evident at CES in January, a number of smarthome products are entering the market, designed primarily for home security and automation. Most of the products include camera features and the ability to easily watch and/or record activity via apps and mobile devices. While surveillance inside the home isn’t new (think nanny cams and video security systems), the new wave of affordable devices intend to democratize and perhaps even glamorize home surveillance. For homes with multiple inhabitants, this may raise questions regarding privacy.

ETCentric community member Lee Lanselle forwarded us an interesting look at the pros and cons of home-monitoring tech. “New home-monitoring systems promise peace of mind, but at what cost to your privacy?” asks Lee.

A product starting at $239 called Piper (pictured here), for example, “is equipped with a wide-angle camera that allows users to see live video of their homes, from anywhere in the world, on their smartphones,” reports The New York Times. “The device also has sensors that detect motion and temperature; a microphone; a siren; and the capability of recording short videos and controlling lights and appliances remotely.”

The article lists other new products, including a $199 camera-equipped security device called Canary; Doorbot, which provides surveillance of your front door area and includes the ability to answer your doorbell remotely; iZON, a webcam that works with smartphones; and Mother, “which uses attachable motion sensors called ‘cookies’ to collect data on things like whether someone has flossed or taken a cholesterol pill (and it nags them if they haven’t).”

These new home-monitoring devices are appealing because they are affordable, easy to use, and smart, but unobtrusive. However, as they increase in popularity, “one wonders how it will change family dynamics and redefine our sense of private space,” notes the article. While some early adopters say they are growing accustomed to the devices, others say they remain uncomfortable and turn them off if they can — or alter their own behavior in their home.

In the case of children being so carefully monitored, questions have been raised regarding possible developmental implications and the potential of undermining trust relationships in families.

Security industry vet Adam Sager, one of the creators of Canary, disagrees with these concerns. “The way we look at it — and we feel strongly about this — we believe Canary brings families and people closer,” he said.

He notes the backup access to family members that the devices provide, using a virtual visit to his sister’s house as an example. “I’m across the country and I can check in to make sure her children are okay,” he said. “I can have this connection to my nephews, which would be impossible without this.”

Canadian entrepreneur Russell Ure, one of the creators of Piper, recommends that some rooms in the home should remain private. “There are going to be spaces in our home where cameras never go in,” he said, adding, “at least, I hope not.”