A Word To The Wise

A Word To The Wise

By Gerald Harris

Norm moved into the condo just a week ago and was still getting used to it. All of the furniture, the appliances, the bookcases – everything still had a brand-new look, a brand-new feel. Typically this would create an uplifting mood, but in this case it didn’t. Norm couldn’t shake the feeling that he was being watched every time he went into the kitchen. Several times he wanted to tell friends about it but decided not to. After all, could anything sound more bizarre than saying your fridge is keeping tabs on you?

This fictionalized anecdote is based on real concerns. There are fridges that keep tabs on their owners. And so do a variety of other electronic devices.

Keeping A Close Watch

Not all that long ago, saying that would have been taboo; after all, no one wants to be labeled paranoid. But these days this thinking has become both acceptable and widespread.

And it’s spoken of around the world. The headline on a news site in Australia read as follows: “Experts warn your smart kitchen appliances are watching you.”

And they’re also recording and storing data about you. “A fridge is no longer only a fridge,” Marco Preuss, director of Global Research and Analysis at security-software maker Kaspersky Labs told Bloomberg. “It’s now also a sensor collecting private information.”

According to Preuss, the details that are being collected, stored, and transmitted by smart appliances should worry consumers, particularly since no one knows exactly what information is being collected, where it’s being stored, who has access to it, and how it’s being used.

The Wall Has Ears

Most people think twice before talking about private and financial information over the phone because of concerns that someone may be listening to the conversation. We shred sensitive documents and other mail to safeguard our privacy. And everyone who uses a PC is concerned about spyware, malicious software that secretly records what’s being done on a computer; spyware can “capture” passwords, banking information, and credit card details and relay them to scam artists, paving the way for identity theft and other serious crimes.

And these are some of the reasons Walgreen’s introduction of a new line of smart coolers called Cooler Screens in January raised eyebrows. These coolers are equipped with cameras that scan shoppers’ faces, and using AI software make inferences about a shopper’s age, gender, and other criteria important to marketers; they also measure and analyze minute details about shoppers’ faces.

The first of these was installed in a store in Chicago in January, and others in New York, Seattle, and San Francisco followed several weeks later.

Cooler Screens’ website says: “We believe brands should be able to measure the performance of media buys in real-time.” But to one website, “what they really mean is brands should be able to spy on shoppers.”

…And Many Do

Whether or not they do, the concern that ordinary household items may be spying on their owners is a very real one and unfortunately is justified. Consider the following:

*Smart meters know what you’re doing at home, when you sleep, when you leave the house, and even what TV show you’re watching,” said Preuss.

*The Canadian Broadcast Company ran a story about ordinary home security cameras broadcasting the goings-on in the homes in which they were installed, including private moments;

*Hackers have broken into home some security cameras, and using those systems have kept close watch on and taunted homeowners;

*Hackers have even broken into some of the top-line security systems and taken control of all of the devices in a home;

*Computer Security firm ReVuln hacked Samsung’s newest televisions, accessing users’ settings, installing malware on the TVs and any connected devices, and harvesting all the personal data that were stored on the machine. They could even switch on the camera embedded in the TV and watch the viewers.

*Former CIA Director David Petraeus said that ordinary home appliances like dishwashers, coffee makers, and clothes dryers could soon be used to gather intelligence about you; some believe they already are. Knowing when you make your coffee sounds innocuous enough, but that little piece of data could help snoopers locate you, learn your habits, and schedule all manner of wrongdoing, Petraeus adds.

*The FBI has issued a warning that internet-connected children’s toys like dolls are equipped with cameras and microphones that could spy on them. The FBI further warned that these toys also could collect personal information, which could create opportunities for child identity fraud and other crimes, and has advised consumers to switch them off when not being used.

Are They Too Smart?

“Whether you realize it or not, your smartphone could be tracking your whereabouts, including the places you go and details down to the minute of when you’ve arrived,” according to security firm Lifelock.

Data security expert Tyler Wildman recently told WTLV-TV that smartphones frequently track the places a user visits, how many times they’ve been there, and what days and times they were there, and that presents serious risks for users.

Northeastern Assistant Professor David Choffnes added that smart devices collect data on us even while they’re supposed to be off. “Most devices are doing some kind of activity when they’re not being used,” he said.

So what does all of this mean? Many of the most useful, practical, and entertaining items in our offices, homes, and that we carry with us are not as innocuous as they seem to be. They may be recording our words, movements, habits, and preferences for nefarious purposes. These include ATMs, phones, TVs, fridges, cars, watches, glasses, and even shoes.

Readers, please note: The information presented here is not my opinion, but rather that of people who are very knowledgeable and expert about this subject. Call this a word to the wise.

Sources: abcnews.com; bbc.com; news.com.au; independent.co.uk; marketplace.com; phys.org; zerohedge.com.

Gerald Harris is a financial and feature writer. Gerald can be reached at geraldhrs@yahoo.com