Just about all of us are dipping our toes into the realm of smart home technology. Most of us have voice assistants, like the Amazon Alexa or Google Home devices, Roombas, or video doorbells, like Ring doorbells. Even so, many of us are hesitant to take the leap and truly embrace smart home technologies — particularly when it comes to purchasing multiple devices and syncing them to a single app or console.
Consumers may be skeptical, but they are not unwilling. According to ABI Research, smart device sales are projected to increase by as much as 30% in 2021, and there will be up to 125 billion devices connected to the Internet of Things (IoT) in 2030. Most significantly, BBC Future posits that ‘a smarter home can be a safer home.’
With these things in mind, why are some consumers still hesitant about smart devices and the Internet of Things? Is smart home technology safe, and what are the benefits of the technology?
Is Smart Home Technology Safe? Potential Drawbacks to the Emerging Technology
Smart home technologies are designed to make our lives more convenient, our appliances and electronics more efficient, and our homes more secure. Unfortunately, the emerging technology is still relatively new, and many fear that the manufacturers are so focused on the original intent of smart devices that they ignore or remain largely blind to how the technology could potentially be used if it falls into the wrong hands.
What are the potential security threats of a fully connected smart home?
- Unwanted monitoring. Is smart home technology safe from unwanted monitoring? Unfortunately — for now — the answer seems to be yes and no. According to BBC Future, mobile applications that are meant to benefit us, like ‘find my phone’ apps and apps that help track young children’s whereabouts, can also be used to track adults’ devices without them knowing. In a 2018 Cornell University study, of 11 businesses who produce and run these applications, eight say that their apps are capable of potentially tracking adults without their knowledge.
- Cyber attacks, including identify theft, compromised passwords, and hacks. Bob Vila recommends using complex passwords and at least two levels of authentification with smart home devices to help prevent hackers from getting into your smart home devices or hacking your entire system. There is also the potential for hackers to target manufacturers and steal customers’ data and exploit it for identity theft.
Some technologies, as they emerge, are clearly beneficial with few drawbacks. Aluminum windows, for example, are energy-efficient and markedly more durable and secure than wooden windows, which are prone to warping and distortion. Others are not so clear-cut. While smart devices certainly have the potential to make our homes more effective and safer than ever before, manufacturers may have to work out some kinks first.
A Few Words on Smart Home Safety
All of these potential issues certainly raise the question: is smart home technology safe? How realistic are the above concerns? Rest assured, many of them are hypothetical. While there have been security problems with smart home devices — just like there have been security breaches with all digital and connected technologies — companies are working to make devices as secure as possible. Plus, there are actions you can take to help secure your smart home, too. Here is a brief overview:
- Stick with well-known manufacturers. There are times when it is best to shop local or support independent businesses. This is not one of them. Big companies that manufacture smart home devices have their name and reputation to protect. They are going to go the extra mile to iron out any security issues right away. They are also more likely to release updates and security patches for their smart home technology than standalone or startup companies.
- Look for software with thorough vetting and testing. According to ATandT Business, there are a variety of tests that can be done to gauge smart devices’ vulnerability. For example, penetration tests (also called ‘pen tests’) and related tools can be ‘used to check how easy it is to hack into a network.’ When you are making a smart device purchase, feel free to ask the seller how the technology has been tested or vetted for security.
- Keep your devices up to date. Security patches and security updates are useless if you do not use them. Regularly update the devices, device software, and mobile applications to ensure that they are as secure as possible. Companies may send updates and patches directly to consumers, or you may have to search their websites in order to find them.
- If you’re going to sell your devices, reset your device to factory settings. While the question ‘Is smart home technology safe?’ is an important one to ask, sometimes it is best to take precautions no matter what. That is certainly the case when it comes to selling your devices. If you are upgrading to a new model or selling a smartphone, voice assistant, or any other smart device for any reason, reset it to factory settings before handing it over to its new owner. Until you reset it, the smart device in question will continue to store any personal information you provided over the course of using it.
While smart home technologies are potentially vulnerable, manufacturers, cybersecurity companies, and consumers are looking into the problem to do something about it. Just like an AC contactor hired for an inspection will assess your unit for issues and tell you how your HVAC system is underperforming, tech companies are also taking a close look at smart devices to see where there is room for improvement.
The Benefits of Smart Home Technology
Is smart home technology safe? Right now, the answer is that it is reasonably safe, and there are multiple parties working on its vulnerabilities. While smart devices are somewhat vulnerable right now, they also come along with a number of undeniable benefits.
What if you could determine when small leaks in your home are significantly impacting your monthly water bill? Hint: With smart devices, you can — and you can contact plumbing services sooner rather than later (i.e. before it becomes a big problem). Smart home technology will also enable you to remotely control and monitor home security systems, assess the energy efficiency of various household systems and appliances, evaluate your need for services like an AC contractor, and keep tabs on young children and aging parents.
How Smart Technology Keeps Your Home Secure
In the future, the question ‘Is smart home technology safe?’ may evolve into ‘Is your home safe without smart technology?’ For many, smart devices and smart home technology promise to make their homes more secure than in the past. For example, a smart burglar alarm or smart home security system may enable consumers to:
- Lock doors remotely and view any attempts to enter your home from any location.
- Receive an alert when doors are open.
- View visitors at the front door and record or photograph them if necessary.
Similarly, consumers can turn smart lights and smart TVs on and off remotely. It is possible to raise and lower smart blinds from any location. Using smart devices this way enables homeowners to create the illusion that they are home when they are not. This technology is especially handy for homeowners on vacation or homeowners who unexpectedly need to spend time away from their houses.
Energy-Savings and Smart Homes
Smart technology doesn’t just stand to make your home safer. It stands to make it more efficient as well.
There are all kinds of smart systems and smart appliances that use significantly less energy than their more-traditional counterparts and help lower your monthly energy bills. For example, you can save on heating and cooling costs with a smart thermostat. Smart thermostats enable you to set a specific schedule for heating and cooling your home. You can automatically lower the heat or air conditioning to a sustainable level while you are away at work, for instance, and raise it to a more comfortable level when you return. You can also remotely adjust the settings. If you leave your air conditioning on too low while you are away, simply log into an app and fix it. Using only the amount of heating and cooling you need will make your system run more efficiently and leave you calling an air conditioning service less often, only when routine maintenance fails you.
Likewise, if you purchase a smart washer and smart dryer, smart technology will monitor how much water you are using, how much heat you are using, and alert you whenever the system needs routine maintenance or immediate attention, like a critical dryer repair. You can use this information to keep track of how much energy you use while doing laundry and adjust your laundry habits as necessary.
Smart lights are yet another tool you can use to save energy. If you forget to turn off the light or lights when you are using smart bulbs — no problem. Simply log into your smart home app from wherever you happen to be and shut them off. If you want the front porch light on before you get home, all you have to do is log into the app and put it on when you are getting close to home.
Take Better Care of Your Loved Ones
Another reason why it may be best to ask if you are safer with smart devices rather than ‘Is smart home technology safe?’ is if you are looking after very young children or aging parents. Whatever the case may be, both groups need additional monitoring. Parents use video baby monitors to ensure that infants and toddlers are sleeping safely and soundly — and not climbing out of their cribs.
Likewise, you can invest in certain technologies and systems, like a video intercom system, to talk to and view aging parents remotely. This can be a critically important feature, given that aging Americans are especially prone to certain risks, like slipping and falling. Purchase voice assistants to help seniors make routine and emergency calls hands-free, Google any information they may need without using a smartphone or computer, and to set important reminders, like reminders for upcoming medical appointments or reminders to take pills.
Enjoy the Latest Tech on the Market
Is smart technology safe? With certain precautions and careful upkeep, there is no reason to skip the obvious perks of smart home technology. Don’t underestimate the thrill of one of the most popular reasons to use smart devices — to take advantage of the latest tech on the market.
What if your smart home hub or smart home console could alert you when you need window repair? What if you could update kitchens to brew your morning cup of coffee for you and install a new shower during a bathroom remodel that you can control using Alexa? Smart home devices are capable of all of these things and more. In fact, consumers can purchase smart washers and dryers that advise them how to best clean certain clothing items or specific materials. There are even connected, robot lawnmowers that operate in much the same way that Roombas do.
Plus, there are various smart devices, like smart coffee makers, smart refrigerators, smart kitchen devices, and voice assistants that can be programmed to intuit your preferences and needs and learn to operate in ways that better suit you over time.
Consumers still have questions about smart homes and smart home devices. Is smart home technology safe? Is it worth it? The answer to the question of is smart home technology safe is a complex one. Companies are continually working to improve security, and there are several things consumers can do to make their systems safer as well. Is it worth it? Smart homes pack several benefits, like energy efficiency, safety, and remote monitoring. Plus, they make use of the latest, cutting-edge technology.