How much does your smart home know about you? That was the question that Charles Givre, a data scientist at Booz Allen Hamilton, set out to answer in a recent experiment. Givre has an account on Wink, a platform designed to control, from a single screen, his Internet-connected home devices, such as door locks, window shades and LED lights. He wanted to learn what could be learned from his usage behavior. It turned out it was a little too much.
Earlier this month, at a big data conference in New York, Givre presented his results. By accessing his Wink account, he (or anyone with his login information) could identify his social media accounts, the names of his devices (like “Charles’s iPad) and his network information. An app that monitors his grill’s propane tank recorded the tank’s latitude and longitude, thus revealing the exact location of his house. From his Nest thermostat, he could figure out when his house was occupied and when it was not.
The goal of his experiment, Givre said, was not to demonstrate security flaws in his devices, but to document the wealth of information that they amass through everyday use. To access his usage history, some accounts required verification keys; others only asked for Givre’s email address and password. He wrote programs to “ping” his devices to gather new information about what was going on in his home in real time, and to find patterns there. He noted that his smart devices seemed to transmit information securely on its way to the companies’ servers, “but most of the interesting stuff was in the cloud anyway.”
As the trend toward networked “smart homes” and “connected cars” continues, security precautions are more important than ever. The Federal Trade Commission put out a report this year with best practices about how companies should notify their customers about data retention. Device makers say that customers can opt in or out of sharing their personal information with developers and third-party apps. But customers may not always be aware of just how much information their devices are collecting about them in the first place. (Read more from “Your Smart Home Knows a Lot About You” HERE)