the dangers of the digital home

A woman falls asleep on the floor. She wakes, terrified and in excruciating pain to find a robot vacuum cleaner chewing up her hair. The cuddly toy you bought your toddler daughter turns out to be secretly recording your private conversations, the bedtime stories you read together and her sleeping and then broadcasting them on the internet.

The CCTV you installed to keep your house safe from burglars is hacked and your life ends up as a 24-hour reality show without you knowing. It is a big hit in Japan.

Your smart home is compromised, the lock code is changed shutting you out, the sound system is cranked up to 11, blaring out while you’re stuck in the drive. The lights are flashing on and off like a disco. You realise there is a party going on inside and you weren’t invited. Perhaps it is just the machines having a good time.

Some of these have happened. For others, it’s only a matter of time. Our houses are being possessed. And the 21st century’s evil spirits are the ghosts controlling our machine. This is the “internet of things”, the much-vaunted next iteration of a connected landscape of domestic and urban objects. The dream is of a connected world in which products talk to each other and everything becomes more efficient, seamless. It is a world which is already populated by domestic devices such as Nest’s home-control systems, the hair-eating robot vacuum cleaner (yep, that one’s true), smart fridges, lighting systems and ovens. And the dream of all these manufacturers is that they will be able to harvest your most intimate data. The user survey and the focus group will be replaced by real-time information. Unknowingly, we will be conducting market research for the manufacturers and online retailers as we carry out our domestic chores, eat, chat and just move around in our homes.

Lights that react to movement, rooms that adjust their temperature when they are inhabited, devices that turn themselves on or off depending on where we are in the home. The data farmers will have an astonishing array of information on how we inhabit our homes. If the temperature in a room rises, they will know there are more people in it and, if it rises a little more, that they are getting up to some strenuous, possibly intimate, activity. They will know probably more than us about how we use space. They will know if we are not at home when we said we were off sick. Through our social media, sat navs and all the rest, we have already willingly…

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