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being smarter about the smart home

 
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Doing a bit of DIY this week and it's amazing how many Smart Home things I can get from lightbulbs to door locks and there's probably a smart home product that will give me a backrub at the end of the day.  I'm not much into that stuff, but it's neat to see all the things out there.

But I also found a video about how easy (and occasionally hard) it is for a stranger to access these devices.

 
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You'd be amazed at how much data is exposed by current technology. As someone who has worked in IT for 20 years now, I'll never be adding a "smart" device to my home, and I'll never log into financial accounts or anything else of sensitive nature from a mobile device considering how vulnerable the OS is for both Apple and Android. I no longer use Gmail due to your data being the product and now use Protonmail which is properly secured. Wonder why that flashlight app needs to access your contacts? That's so it can harvest email addresses to sell to spammers without your approval. At least Android has a firewall app (without rooting) that allows me to block the other apps from doing what they shouldn't, but even that is a half-measure.

Then we have all the "smart" gadgets which are really just electronic surveillance devices these days. It's pretty easy for a remote party to enable the camera or microphone on a mobile device or say the TV in your house, without any notifications or bells/whistles. And as the video shows in the first minute, lots of people have effectively enabled wire tapping in their home out of convenience. Attaching a device that will remotely unlock your front door, so your package can be put inside, then locks the door again if the driver closes the door properly, and can be accessed from a mobile device... how could anything possible go wrong there! If secure delivery is needed, I'll just use an Amazon locker at a store thanks.

Heck even rollout of 5G networks now has the potential to disrupt weather forecasting, due to the frequencies used being too close to what weather satellites monitor for water vapor in the atmosphere. I'm personally less and less a fan of digital technology and imagine it will get worse and worse, as we add ever more "noise" around us without any clue what the long term consequences are to our health, and the public will just assume "technology will fix it". Nah, I'm looking forward to moving out of town to where the closest neighbor is a thousand yards away and there isn't a hundreds wires running past and into my front door.
 
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Nope, nope, nope.

I already have enough things than can break and do break to repair.

The smartest thing I might install (and build) are LED lamps that can be dimmed and switched from multiple sources. Somehow the switch is always in the wrong position.
 
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This reminds me of a cartoonist from the 1930' that drew these most elaborate machines to do the simplest of tasks. he did it as satire, to show how they were electrifying the most simplest things just because they could electrify the process.

I looked for his cartoons, but could not find any on the internet.

But to me we are doing that with online stuff.

I heard of an oven that Alexa can turn on. The first thing I thought of was, 'I wonder how many houses will burn down when Alexa is accidentally triggered and the oven stays on all day?' I can see where it would be nice to do some of these things, but how often are you driving along, and thinking, "Jeesh if only the oven was up to temp before I got home, I could cook the pizza's for the kids?" Not all that often. More to the point, is the potential of burning your home down worth that two times a year you use that feature? No thanks, I will just wait the extra ten minutes for it to heat up when I get home.

This is but one example.

I am not a technology Neanderthal, but I feel I live a pretty fulfilling life without an electronic leash (cell phone) in my hand.
 
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Travis: Rube Goldberg! I love his stuff!!


and yes, smart appliances are like that in my book.
Or worse.
The house we are renting has a thermostat that runs the heat pump and back up systems. It was made to work with WIFI. I don't let it on my WIFI. When the power goes out, it sits there and waits until the time and date have been reset before it notices "whoa, the house got really cold, I oughta kick on the heat!" This is non-optimal. And can't be modified, it's in the main code. And honestly, it's not a super new system, wonder if it's obsolete yet? Phones that are 4 years old piss off the cell company becase they don't want to deal with "outdated technology." How long before Alexa is outdated tech, and everything involved there has to be replaced....
 
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You should see the latest androids they are making. I've watched and read too much scifi to want someone else's "smart" machine living with me. That said, I wouldn't mind making my own some day.
 
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No smart devices in my home, no thank you!

This all reminds me of an article I read yesterday about how cellphones literally track our every movement. The New York Times got access to a data set from three years ago in Pasadena, California. They could follow people's every movement. People who worked at NASA, Sheriff's deputies, principals,students, joe-average people. All of them tracked every moment of their day.
https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/12/21/opinion/pasadena-smartphone-spying.html

The Times Privacy Project was given access to a data set with more than 50 billion location “pings” from the phones of more than 12 million Americans across several major cities. Each piece of information came down to a set of coordinates in time. The result is a tapestry of movement laid across a city grid — like the computer game SimCity, only real.

This granular location data — the kind that is collected by hundreds of mobile apps and then shared with dozens of location data brokers — may seem like a catalog of the mundane. But the aggregate is closer to total surveillance — an exact record of the rhythms of a living, breathing community.


Modern data surveillance relies on the ease of gathering but also the capacity to analyze giant sets of numbers. Run a set of numbers through a computer and the data becomes far more personal and invasive. Data points become a diary. A cluster of pings inside a secure facility reveals clues to the secretive role of an aerospace engineer. Visits to places of worship, trips to Planned Parenthood, a late-night visit to a bail bondsman — all collected in perpetuity and logged forever to be analyzed, traded and monetized. Each mark of latitude and longitude tells the story of the triumphs and tribulations of a life.



Here's an example:

Mr. Paige took over managing the Sheriff’s Station social media accounts in 2012, and so he carries two phones and an iPad most of the time. In a dimly lit room where we met, he drummed his fingers on his county-issue iPhone 6 and let out a resigned laugh as we showed him a detailed map of his movements over a few months: shuttling to the dry cleaners, then to lunch downtown followed by a stop at Search and Rescue headquarters and finally to a E.M.T. training at a Glendale community college. When we showed him the thick red lines drawing a direct route from the police station to his home, he winced.

“It is a little surprising,” he confessed. As a law enforcement officer, he was concerned about possible threats against him and his family. In his line of work, any record of his home, as well as of the stores and restaurants he frequents, is a vulnerability.

Mr. Paige is not a stranger to technology and privacy. He meticulously strips photos of their metadata before posting them to the sheriff’s department’s Twitter or Facebook accounts. He checks his permissions and helps educate fellow officers. But though he turns location services off on most of his apps, he’s aware that it takes only one slip-up to transmit his exact coordinates — like everyone, he’s only as secure as the weakest link in his chain of downloaded apps. “Whenever you agree to an app, there's those eight pages of two-point font to read and, yeah, I'm guilty of not reading — just hit ‘accept’ and roll the dice,” he said.



Another article I read was about how facebook and google track not just our location, but who we're with and what our friends like and--often--what we're saying, and send us targeted ads for those things. And who knows what else they do with that info! USA Today: "You’re not paranoid: Your phone really is listening in"

These user agreements explicitly state recorded audio may be used for targeted advertising purposes. Interestingly, such practices aren't against the law. This action allows tech companies to push privacy boundaries even further to encourage us to buy things we don't need.



Another article I read pointed out that google and facebook send out targeted ads based on who we're with and what those people have liked recently. If they're sending ads based on that, what else are they doing with that data? CBS News: Are smartphones listening and targeting us with ads?

Google said it has access to "70 percent of credit and debit card transactions in the United States." Along with Facebook and others, it also monitors much of what we're doing across the web. Using hidden tracking technologies, the companies can see many of the pages you – and people connected to you – are visiting, allowing them to better tailor their ads. According to the author of one study, Google has trackers on 76 percent of websites while Facebook watches us on 23 percent of sites.



I only have a old celphone without a plan that I use for taking pictures. I don't think/know whether we can be tracked/hacked through it? We have no wifi in our house, but somehow we get Amber Alerts through the phone.

My husband's phone is also just used for a camera, though he connects to work and store wifi's sometimes to send me messages. We think all the location gathering data is turned off...but is it?

 
Pearl Sutton
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Nicole: Amber alerts work like the 911 calls, you don't have to have a plan to do them. Your phone will call 911, even if it will call no one else. A domestic violence shelter where I used to live asked for old flip phones. because women could call 911 from them if needed. In theory you will also get government emergency alerts.

In THEORY shutting off location services in your phone will stop it, but that's theory. Any app can bypass your base setting. I have zero apps on my phone, and I shut off location services, so in theory I'm not tracked. I don't use anything that uses GPS etc, so I don't care. I use the web browser, and have it refusing all cookies and advertising. Again, is that enough? I don't know. I don't use my phone for my net connection, only use my browser (not an app) to look up things like "Whoa, is this thing that bit me poisonous?" and to track current weather (with no location set, I have the sites I use bookmarked.) Is this enough? Hard to say, it's the best I can come up with right now until I can get a landline again. Right now my life is safer with a cell phone, as I work alone on my property doing not always safe things involving tools and machines and unfamiliar insects.

I do know all the towers as I travel ping my phone, so I suppose that I can be tracked that way. I don't travel much, 99% of my time I'm in range of the same tower.

I also have my adblockers on my computer running blocks on *.google.com  and *.facebook.com  and all of their advertising domains I can identify. I don't need them, don't use them, don't want them. I have cookies blocked, and 99% of the advertising on the net blocked (not Permies! :D) Every so often I see the net with the ads showing, and I'm horrified, how do people stand that? If my screen looked like that, I'd not be on the computer.  I'm SO not the target market for that. To me, seeing an ad for something tags it in my head as "don't buy that one."  I can't remember when I last bought something because I saw an ad for it. Many many years ago.

I was looking something up for Permies, needed to see what google search said, unblocked it, ran the search, and was horrified, all these ads on my search page! I use duck duck go, I don't see that.... UGH. Finished what I was doing, and re-enabled my blocks. Yuk.

In my eyes technology has some incredibly useful purposes, and some horrifying misuses, and I wish we could separate the two of them. And get over the whole "obsolete in 6 months" stuff. I'd love a good solid phone, and a good solid computer that didn't need everything constantly upgraded to keep it "current" I don't want "current" I want "functional, then stop messing with it." But that doesn't make enough money, so we get the "new, better, faster, buy it NOW!" stuff... Luddite geek is a hard niche to live in. I can't imagine if my house was as much of a pain to keep upgraded. Not going to happen in my world.
 
Travis Johnson
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The new "thing' that is getting me are these new rules where there are no workarounds to not having a cell phone. Like now to get a new email address a person needs a cell phone, well I do not have one. That is, I do not use the one I got...I do not have one at all. So I am finding myself more and more limited, but I look at it as a good thing overall.

 
Nicole Alderman
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I've been encountering those sorts of problems, too. When we enrolled my son in school, we left the cellphone section blank, because, like you we do not have one. We actually got an email from the administrator asking about it. We explained that we don't have cellphone numbers, and she said she understood...but when I look at our record, it shows my husband's work phone as our cellphone.

And, when he started his first class, the teacher wanted each of our cellphones so they could contact us in case something went awry in class. Since it's a homeschool/public school co-op, the parents have to be on campus when their kids are. But, you know, sometimes a parent is in the library or the cafeteria, and might be hard to find. It is a big school campus (it was previously a middle school). But, we worked around that by just always being in the adjoining room and telling other parents if I have to take my daughter to the bathroom or am making copies in the library.

So far, we've always found a way to work around not having a cellphone, but it is getting harder with each passing year!
 
r ranson
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Digital Isolation - https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-cornwall-50812576

Nearly a quarter of the population where I live don't have a smartphone according to the last census.
 
Nicole Alderman
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A few years back, we were going to be taking a long trip. So, we went looking for a phone you could load minutes onto. We went to the electronics section of our local big-box store and got a ZTE phone for something like $72. We could buy data plans or calling plans. We paid for a calling plan for like 100 minutes. Mostly for if our car broke down when 4 hours from home.

Then, later we discovered that this cheap phone can access wifi and we can use it to search the web or check facebook or whatever. I had no idea that such a phone could be had for so cheap!

I went looking on amazon, and found a similar model--it's $60 (Link).

Here's another tracphone with good reviews and is wifi capable and is only $20 ([url=https://www.amazon.com/Tracfone-Blade-Lite-Prepaid-Phone/dp/B07NXB6CC6/ref=pd_day0_hl_107_1/142-9395937-9657458?_encoding=UTF8&pd_rd_i=B07NXB6CC6&pd_rd_r=670d5d55-6fbe-484e-9b03-150578e34d73&pd_rd_w=nZ90n&pd_rd_wg=G1Mhc&pf_rd_p=0501877d-5f8c-4ec8-9861-e0476eecc53e&pf_rd_r=GXP123RSVX65B58BF70N&psc=1&refRID=GXP123RSVX65B58BF70N]Link[/url)].

We don't have wifi at our house, but most stores have it, as do libraries. We just hop into a store when traveling to use it to message someone on facebook or research something.
 
Mark Brunnr
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That's the problem with "free" email Travis, you're still paying for it but they just don't tell you the real price. Cell number=ad revenue when they sell your number to "affiliates" so they can spam you. Check out ting.com, cell phone plans start at $6/month and are totally based on your usage. So long as you don't use a ton of data, they are really affordable. As to responding to points in other posts I have to limit my reply to "assume communication isn't private" and "assume the worst of every corporation" when it comes to your data privacy.
 
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