Thursday, September 14, 2017 by Frances Bloomfield
Watch out: Your gadgets are smarter than you are, and it may be endangering you. We human beings have always fancied ourselves as the apex organisms of this planet. Going by our accomplishments in technology, infrastructure, and the like, it certainly seemed to have been that way for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. We’ve done all we can to make our lives as comfortable and as convenient as possible, and because of that, we could very easily lose our spot at the top of the food chain. Face the facts: our ever-growing reliance on technology is going to bump us down a few notches.
One recent article by law and technology scholar Joshua A.T. Fairfield serves as a grim reminder of how far technology has come, how much we’re lagging behind, and how badly it can cost us. Fairfield wrote about how “Internet of things” devices, or Internet-connected devices, have become so prevalent that they can be anything from vacuum cleaners to erotic massage devices. In order to accomplish what they were built to do, these products require our personal information — personal information that their manufacturers have easy access to.
“That information is valuable not just for us but for people who want to sell us things. They ensure that internet-enabled devices are programmed to be quite eager to share information,” Fairfield explained, then added that “smart devices can be programmed to share our private information with advertisers over back-channels of which we are not aware.”
Fairfield cited the robotic vacuum cleaner Roomba as one such example: “Since 2015, the high-end models have created maps of its users’ homes, to more efficiently navigate through them while cleaning. But as Reuters and Gizmodo reported recently, Roomba’s manufacturer, iRobot, may plan to share those maps of the layouts of people’s private homes with its commercial partners.”
Beyond just being terrible breaches of privacy, this shows just how easy it is for us to lose control over a part of our lives that we should have a say in. These “commercial partners” should only know what you want them to know, not what an automated cleaning device has told them without your knowledge or consent. (Related: Vault 7 bombshell just vindicated every conspiracy theorist: The CIA can spy on anyone through TVs, iPhones, smart phones and Windows PCs.)
Even worse than strangers learning of such intimate knowledge about you is them doing what they please with it. A team of researchers from the IT Security Infrastructures group of the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg discovered how easy it is to have full command over a home’s smart lights. Exploiting a security weakness in the communication protocols suite ZigBee allowed them to change the color and brightness of smart lights from a fair distance of over 100 meters.
So someday soon you could find yourself in a situation where your toilet has been gathering intelligence on your bathroom habits, and a stranger could use that knowledge to find a way to break into your home. In one fell swoop you just went from looking down at every other living creature from your place on the food chain to stumbling over backwards and falling down several levels. All because you have no control over those devices that are supposed to make life a little easier for you.
In fact, they could be taking over that spot you once occupied. These gadgets are much more capable than we thought, after all.
Don’t lose hope, though; we haven’t yet been completely stripped of our title as apex organisms. Maintaining our foothold becomes way easier when we cut down on our over-reliance on smart technology. Scale it back and make a habit of doing the little and big things manually. Sure, it may be tedious and downright boring, but hey, it beats knowing that some company out there knows the layout of your home and could someday sell it to the highest bidder.
Go to FutureScienceNews.com to remain up to date and aware of what’s going on with technology.