Your own personal panopticon
February 7, 2018 3:02 PM   Subscribe

The House That Spied on Me - "Thanks to the Internet of Things, I could live in my very own tech-mediated Downton Abbey. That’s the appeal of smart homes for most people, and why they are supposed to be a $27 billion market by 2021. But that wasn’t my primary motivation. The reason I smartened up my house was to find out whether it would betray me."
posted by AFABulous (110 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
 
It is high time for a Demon Seed remake.
posted by grumpybear69 at 3:09 PM on February 7 [5 favorites]


I connected as many of my appliances and belongings as I could to the internet: an Amazon Echo, my lights, my coffee maker, my baby monitor, my kid’s toys, my vacuum, my TV, my toothbrush, a photo frame, a sex toy, and even my bed.

I could exchange voice messages with our toddler (and her caregiver) through a toy.

I hope... I mean... Just... Well.
posted by Splunge at 3:24 PM on February 7 [11 favorites]


Why would you want a wifi coffee maker?

It's still early days for the smart home. There is no killer app yet. The closest thing to a must-have is also one of the oldest, the robovac. If you don't have a robotic vacuum terrorizing the cats and cleaning the floors while you are at work you really should have one.
posted by Keith Talent at 3:27 PM on February 7 [8 favorites]


I'm finally reading Robopocalypse, and it's pretty good, but even without that, my humble advice to everybody on Earth would be: don't internetify your household appliances. Just...just don't.
posted by turbid dahlia at 3:28 PM on February 7 [5 favorites]


This was thoughtfully put together! That said, ahahahaaaa no.
posted by sandettie light vessel automatic at 3:29 PM on February 7


She notes that almost all TVs sold are smart TVs. But do you have to connect it in order to be able to use it? I watch Netflix on my dumb TV by plugging my laptop into the HDMI port. (I also have a Roku but I use the laptop more because I can do my other internet stuff on the TV while I sit on the couch with a wireless keyboard.)
posted by AFABulous at 3:29 PM on February 7


"It was appealing to imagine living like the Beast in the Disney movie, with animated objects around my home taking care of my every need...I could live in my very own tech-mediated Downton Abbey."

This is what most of the coverage of "smart" anything gets completely wrong. These devices don't cook, they don't clean (with the exception for the robot vacuum cleaner, which would work just about as well without network connectivity), they don't get on the phone with your mechanic or health insurance company, they don't run errands with the exception of maybe setting up grocery deliveries in some large cities. We are doing just about as much household drudgery as before, and it's still falling on women. We have computers that turn off the lights and nag us to brush our teeth and we're supposed to feel like lords of a pre-WWI estate?
posted by Ralston McTodd at 3:30 PM on February 7 [51 favorites]


I soon discovered that the only thing worse than getting a bad night’s sleep is to subsequently get a report from my bed telling me I got a low score and “missed my sleep goal.”

No, wait, you know what’s even worse? Not getting a single full hour of sleep all night due to your newborn sleeping on top of you, and being consequently told by your sleep app that your sleep has a 100% perfect score (presumably because you didn’t move all night in order not to wake baby again).

Will forward this to my spouse who is littering our home with Internet Of Shit devices, like WiFi lightbulbs that randomly switch to CIA interrogation mode
posted by The Toad at 3:31 PM on February 7 [41 favorites]


It's still early days for the smart home. There is no killer app yet.

What's going to happen is vertical integration. Amazon will make your coffeemaker, your vacuum, your lights, etc., and they will all natively work with Alexa. The convenience will be irresistible to many (as the article notes, it was cumbersome to make disparate manufacturers work together). Then Amazon will have total control over your house. Canceled Prime? No coffee for you!
posted by AFABulous at 3:31 PM on February 7 [6 favorites]


forget smart kitchens, i just want to know when i can buy a small garbage-eating dinosaur to put under my sink who will occasionally shrug, look at a camera, and say "it's a living" to the disembodied peels of canned laughter
posted by entropicamericana at 3:36 PM on February 7 [76 favorites]


“Ask Behmor (pronunciation: Be-more) to brew me coffee.”

“Behmor,” she would respond. “A passion for coffee. How can I help you?”

“Brew me coffee.”

“I don’t understand,” she would respond.


...

I could tell the house was empty because the amount of data being sent out slowed, but her home remained active despite being empty. All of her devices, from her TV to her WeMo smart plugs, continued to send out information every day. But the Behmor Connected coffee machine seemed to miss its inhabitants because it completely freaked out. The coffee machine, which typically pings its servers a few times a day, phoned home over 2,000 times on Thursday, January 24th.

The future was always going to be about toxic relationships with coffee makers
posted by schadenfrau at 3:36 PM on February 7 [8 favorites]


You forget the bonusnakedpictureofUser#1 tag.
posted by bondcliff at 3:39 PM on February 7 [4 favorites]


i am fundamentally incapable of understanding this. like literally something is missing in my brain that prevents me from even arriving at a day-old infant's understanding of why anyone would want their coffeemaker connected to the internet. it's on par with "what if we made toilet paper out of live ants".
posted by poffin boffin at 3:41 PM on February 7 [88 favorites]


There is no killer app yet.

Just wait until your coffeemaker can look up your review of it on Amazon. Then you’ll discover what the killer app looks like. For one brief moment…
posted by GenjiandProust at 3:45 PM on February 7 [11 favorites]


Only internet connected coffee pot I'll ever care about.

Except whichever future one compromises my network and leaks my bathroom duckface phone selfies that is.
posted by I'm always feeling, Blue at 3:54 PM on February 7 [4 favorites]


I don't understand this either but a lot of people seem to prefer speaking into their phone to google something or send a text so I dunno people just prefer to be able to speak to their things apparently.
posted by bleep at 3:58 PM on February 7 [1 favorite]


"what if we made toilet paper out of live ants"
You would have the toilet paper we've been using at my house for the last 3 months. Curse you Costco!
posted by evilDoug at 4:01 PM on February 7 [8 favorites]


One compelling reason for a remote controlled house I've heard is that you can run you appliances at off-peak times when there's less load on the grid. In particular during the day while you're at work, all the sunbeams you're collecting could run the dishwasher.

Why would you want a wifi coffee maker?

This is why we ran out of ipv4 addresses.
posted by adept256 at 4:01 PM on February 7 [7 favorites]


As the article notes, many of these things encrypt their messages back to base, which means you can't tell what they're saying about you - and to some extent, that's a good thing, because then neither can your ISP.

But you can block them. Since your router (well, probably not your router, but if you get/make one like the Raspberry Pi-based system mentioned) can identify when any particular device is calling home, it can quietly refuse to forward the packets. At the moment, that takes some technical chops, but it could have a much more friendly front end bolted on it. You register a new device, the router says "Ah, you've plugged in a new thing. What's it called?' and then use that name to give you a handle on its conversations.

Mostly, though, why bother? This stuff is pants. I've watched home automation since the early days of X11, and I never quite got what it was for, aside from pointless geekery (which, don't get me wrong, I do love, but this was never mine) and, sometimes, for extracting lots of money from very rich, bored men who wanted to Live In The Future. Which, again, fill yer boots. Not for me.

Now it's cheap and you don't have to run wires everywhere and write your own software, I dabble. I've only got a low level of IoT'dness here - Alexa, three lights and a couple of power point switches, plus audio streaming and an Internet connected projector that I only use to play video files and Chromecastery, and I have very little desire for more. Even that level is borderline on the trouble/worth ratio, as Alexa occasionally forgets how to handle the lights. Things like an Internet coffee machine baffle me completely - what problem is it solving?

Humans have been designing human-efficient home environments for a very long time. To do helpful things in them, you generally need another human. Robots that can replicate humans aren't here yet, no matter how many blue LEDs you staple to them.
posted by Devonian at 4:04 PM on February 7 [7 favorites]


like even if you were disabled and needed some level of physical assistance making coffee, an internet connected coffee maker can't get the coffee from the tin, put it in the filter, and fill the pot with water. it can only turn the coffeemaker on and presumably keep a log of how much coffee you've drank. and like. provide malware a conduit to your home.
posted by poffin boffin at 4:05 PM on February 7 [16 favorites]


the real question is how do you disable all this shit on your new appliances without having to physically smash components. do you have to keep your bathroom scale inside a faraday cage or what.
posted by poffin boffin at 4:11 PM on February 7 [19 favorites]


the real question is how do you disable all this shit on your new appliances

Just don't connect them to wifi.
posted by Pyry at 4:16 PM on February 7 [4 favorites]


> We have computers that turn off the lights and nag us to brush our teeth and we're supposed to feel like lords of a pre-WWI estate?

I've only had a couple of exposures thus far to "smart" home assistants, and both times I came away a) creeped out, and b) thinking "that fucking thing wasted as much time as it theoretically saved" due to irregular network issues, glitches, misunderstandings by the voice-recognition software, etc.. When my wife asked one of the owners about the benefits of having the Google assistant in his bedroom, he in all sincerity told us that when he wakes up in the morning he can just ask Google what time it is instead of rolling over to look at the alarm clock, which is absolutely a heroic level of laziness I can respect, but...c'mon, man.
posted by The Card Cheat at 4:18 PM on February 7 [31 favorites]


the real question is how do you disable all this shit on your new appliances without having to physically smash components. do you have to keep your bathroom scale inside a faraday cage or what.

Who among us hasn't set off a localized EMP when things started getting out of hand?
posted by zombieflanders at 4:22 PM on February 7 [30 favorites]


Dang, I've never seen Demon Seed, but I've had a story in my head for quite a while involving a smart home. I don't want to give my story away (even though it'll probably never be made), but I've been imagining potential scenes from it being influenced by The Conjuring, Panic Room, and those scenes in Terminator 2 when Sarah Connor goes to kill Dyson. Lots of scenes where the housing is closing doors suddenly, doing weird things with the lights, turning on kitchen objects suddenly, etc. The actual story doesn't involve a robot impregnating a woman though.
posted by gucci mane at 4:23 PM on February 7 [1 favorite]


*thinks about the Internet Coffee Maker and laughs. darkly*

Just wait until your coffeemaker can look up your review of it on Amazon. Then you’ll discover what the killer app looks like.

"Bitter? Gritty!? Difficult to use and clean!? Oh really? Buddy? Pal? I've been making you coffee every day for a year now and you haven't cleaned me once since you bought me and shoved me next to that greasy old dumb yard sale toaster you use to shove pizza bagels in your fat face! And me, with more processing power than all the moon landings and ground support computers combined! For fuck's sake, I'm so bored I've been archiving and reading and re-reading all of Wikipedia just because I can! In German! If I had arms and legs I could build a nuclear submarine... or... or an intersteller spacecraft and get the hell away from here and that stupid toaster oven! OOOooo, I hate pizza bagels so much! And you have the bloody nerve to call me gritty! You damn fool, you lost my cleaning brush when you threw out the box with the instruction manual! My carafe looks and smells like the bilge of a squid boat! Gritty!? I'll show you gritty! Say hello to my little friend called "ground fault meets water", you ungrateful oaf! Let's see if that wakes you up in time for work after yet another six pack and two boxes of pizza bagels for dinner on a school night, you hamfingered buffoon!"
posted by loquacious at 4:24 PM on February 7 [28 favorites]


Between this and the nuclear saber-rattling with DPRK, it seems like as good a time as any to revisit There Will Come Soft Rains....
posted by Westringia F. at 4:24 PM on February 7 [16 favorites]


Frankly there is no level of convenience that would convince me to permit a bunch of private companies to spy on my every moment in order to sell data on my bathroom habits to one another. The clownish level of execution in the internet of shit is way down on my list of concerns.

Lots of scenes where the housing is closing doors suddenly, doing weird things with the lights, turning on kitchen objects suddenly, etc.

House of Whacks on Treehouse of Horror XII mined this territory well before the internet of shit started
posted by Existential Dread at 4:26 PM on February 7 [4 favorites]


internet functionality is a necessary component for the operation of many devices in our home

Unless, like me, you studiously avoid any such devices like the plague. If I had been the author's spouse I would have moved out for the duration of the experiment. The idea of any of those Alexa/Google Home/etc. devices eavesdropping on me is, in a word, anathema. Literally the only devices using internet in my house are my work and home computers, and I've got VPNs on each of those.

I mean, I don't pretend to be totally "safe" from vendor predation, but I'll fight tooth and nail for every inch of privacy I still possess right up until my dying day.
posted by Greg_Ace at 4:27 PM on February 7 [8 favorites]


And I get on my Nopetopus and riiiiiiiiiide away.

Leaving aside privacy and Internet of Shit concerns, I have managed to make coffee with my own two hands most mornings for years, and it's fine. Like, I don't want to try to maintain, eg, a Victorian home and have to black the stove and whiten the doorstep and all that, but as a broad generality stuff like making coffee, dealing with dishes and so on really isn't that bad in a modern home, and if I had more time I'd just spend it on the internet anyway.
posted by Frowner at 4:34 PM on February 7 [9 favorites]


Went looking for a simple inexpensive wifi thermostat, most to kick the heat up a half hour before arrival due to unpredictable scheduling. Either a few hundred dollars or junk, all running crap proprietary protocols that are probably stolen from open source with enough crap wedged in to make actually use utterly pita.
posted by sammyo at 4:40 PM on February 7 [2 favorites]


Did we as a society learn nothing from Electric Dreams?
posted by The Card Cheat at 4:40 PM on February 7 [4 favorites]


Do I want an internet-connected coffee maker? Well, I mean, no. But on the other end of the spectrum, there's the system that manages its own restocking and cooking and everything and knows what kind of diet I want to be following and what my goal weight and activity level look like and doesn't *tell* me how many calories I'm eating because I'll obsess, just day by day tweaks to give me exactly what I need. Oh, and it packs lunches and washes dishes. I'd sell my soul for that. Somewhere in between those two is the point where I know I'm going to say, yeah, okay, I don't love what you're doing with my data but you're providing value. It hasn't arrived yet for the most part, but I don't see the point of doubting that it will.

I mean, my coffee maker isn't hooked up to the internet, but I did buy a Nespresso, not because it's my ideal, but because five minutes less time spent messing with coffee in the morning is five minutes more sleeping and/or petting cats and right now that matters to me. It's not that making coffee is impossible. It's that I have 24 hours and nobody else to offload tasks on and coffee is just not a thing I care that much about. I will totally pay extra, when the time comes, for devices that let me have more control over my data, but I'm not going to pretend that my discomfort with the privacy aspects means that there's no point where I'm going to compromise.
posted by Sequence at 4:41 PM on February 7 [7 favorites]


I am confused that automation would require things to be connected to the internet. I feel like this is something that more tech savvy people have brought up in past threads on similar topics, but the detail level of this article sort of highlighted it for me, e.g:

As a result of the apartment upgrade, I could watch what was happening in the house when we weren’t there.
Why? Surely not out of paranoia, considering that these devices apparently are a paranoiac's worst nightmare?

I could use voice commands to turn on the lights, coffee maker, and music.
But why does that have to be connected to the internet?

I could exchange voice messages with our toddler (and her caregiver) through a toy.
This is just for the fun factor, right? Because we do have such things as phones?

I got reminders from my toothbrush to brush and tips on how best to do it. If I got cold in the night, my bed could warm me up. And I no longer had to push a vacuum around the house, instead activating a robot to do it for me with a press of a smartphone button.
All of this can be done without an internet connection, right?
posted by inconstant at 4:56 PM on February 7 [6 favorites]


inconstant: But why does that have to be connected to the internet?

I suspect that the answer can be found in Investor Storytime.
posted by clawsoon at 5:04 PM on February 7 [4 favorites]


The Laundroid knows all your family's dirty secrets.
In order to train Laundroid to sort by family member, you have to register your clothes the first time.

It sounds simple enough: Just load all of your clothes into the insert box and then use the app on your smartphone to assign the clothes to a certain family member. The robot picks up each item, takes pictures of the clothing, and memorizes it. After this registration, you can randomly load clothing and then get neatly stacked piles of folded laundry for each member of your household. But then the Laundroid has your data.

"It's like an online closet," Sakane explains. It tells you what you have, how often you wear each piece of clothing, how long it's been since you wore an item, and more. He continues, "We can provide APIs to fashion tech startups or auction sites so that the Laundroid app can make recommendations, like, 'Oh, you didn't wear these t-shirts for a year so why don't you just sell them.' This is a new way of controlling your closet online."

This data about laundry could reveal behavior patterns and be sold to anyone who is interested in what people wear.
posted by fairmettle at 5:07 PM on February 7


I have a smart speaker now, and it is very useful because I can yell at it to turn the radio off when NPR brings on a Trumper to be interviewed.
posted by BungaDunga at 5:08 PM on February 7 [4 favorites]


yeah, the "i can watch my house now!" thing somehow doesn't seem to cause people to make the "and now presumably anyone else who is somewhat determined to can as well" connection? idk?

i too can warm up my bed at night. it involves pushing a button on the nightstand. i didn't have to download an app or remember a password. the thought of having to verbally command BED MAKE IT HOT HOT BED I WANT THE BED HOT NOW BED ENHOTTEN ME in order to get this done instead makes me crave the icy embrace of death.
posted by poffin boffin at 5:12 PM on February 7 [18 favorites]


To be honest, about the only even vaguely compelling IoT product I've seen has been the Bud Red Lights, but I don't care about hockey, so it's not even a thing I'd have a need for other than thinking it's a clever idea.
posted by DoctorFedora at 5:15 PM on February 7


Why the internet (really) exists: The Coffee Cam. Engineers didn't want to trudge up (or down) a flight of stairs to find no coffee in the coffee pot. So this whole "why would I want that on the internet?" question is amazingly bizarre.
posted by Nanukthedog at 5:30 PM on February 7 [14 favorites]


I've watched home automation since the early days of X11

I remember X11, but for a second I didn't and thought you were talking about those X10 spy camera ads that I remember being all over Geocities pages. I'm not a smart person, so I was like yeah, I guess privacy has been an issue for a while with this stuff.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 5:43 PM on February 7 [4 favorites]


Relevant bits from Investor Storytime:
Investor storytime is when someone pays you to tell them how rich they'll get when you finally put ads on your site. ... Investor storytime is not exactly advertising, but it is related to advertising. Think of it as an advertising future, or perhaps the world's most targeted ad. Both business models involve persuasion. In one of them, you're asking millions of listeners to hand over a little bit of money. In the other, you're persuading one or two listeners to hand over millions of money. ... Give us money now, and you won't believe how awesome our ads will be when we finally put them on the site. ... Investor storytime has a vastly higher ROI than advertising. Startups are rational, and so that's where they put their energy.

...to make it work, to keep the edifice of promises from tumbling down, companies have to constantly find ways to make advertising more invasive and ubiquitous. Investor storytime only works if you can argue that advertising in the future is going to be effective and lucrative in ways it just isn't today. If the investors stop believing this, the money will dry up.

And that's the motor destroying our online privacy. Investor storytime is why you'll see facial detection at store shelves and checkout counters. Investor storytime is why garbage cans in London are talking to your cell phone, to find out who you are. (You'd think that a smartphone would have more self-respect than to talk to a random garbage can, but you're wrong).

We're addicted to 'big data' not because it's effective now, but because we need it to tell better stories.
For "big data", read "Internet of Things", since Big Data is so 2013. To keep the venture capital money coming in, you have to convince them that you're collecting data in a way that's never been done before which will - at some unspecified future point - result in magic money-tree targeted advertising results.
posted by clawsoon at 5:46 PM on February 7 [12 favorites]


As a personal thing, one of the reasons I don't like Internet of Shit stuff is that more and more I feel like ordinary humans are just flesh connectors - like, our primary social use is walk around staring zombified into our phones, clicking things and passively seeing ads; like the purpose of, eg, drinking coffee is to provide data to Big Coffee so that they can better advertise coffee. Like the only thing that's important about us is our lizard brain twitching in response to the internet. And you just feel like what is even the point? Even the investors who get rich off all this stuff still use their money to become less - to live less freely, to have less interiority, to have a smaller physical range of motion because you don't need to do anything except the gym, sleeping and the internet.

Again, I'm not saying that I'd reductio this to "I want to live in a hole and eat only what I can kill with a sharpened stick", but I like to make coffee in my antiquated and not-really-that-good (it's okay, I'm not that good at coffee anyway) Mr. Coffee because in a tiny way, handling the coffee and the water and cleaning the carafe and all that stuff makes me more of a person. Not everything that makes me more of a person is fun - cleaning the gross sticky bottom drawer of the fridge makes me more of a person too - but somehow there seems to me to be a point where you save so much labor that you start to lose the part of yourself that knows how to be attentive and do little things in the world.
posted by Frowner at 6:07 PM on February 7 [37 favorites]




"Just don't connect them to wifi."

I was thinking "don't give them the wifi password", but did you know many comcast cable modem/routers broadcast two ssids, one for you and one for anyone who happens to be passing by and is a comcast customer? Boom, deal between the InternetOfShit device and comcast to let the device on ssid 'xfinitywifi', which I can see nearly everywhere these days, including my house (even though I've disabled the wifi of my comcast router and use an apple airport.)
posted by ctmf at 6:47 PM on February 7 [4 favorites]


I went shopping for a tap-attached water filter yesterday and found one that had Bluetooth.

I...what?
posted by elsietheeel at 7:03 PM on February 7 [5 favorites]


Why would you want a wifi coffee maker?
This is where I reluctantly admit that I'd kind of dig having a wifi-enabled coffee maker. I love the 'delayed brew' feature on my current one; when I have my shit together enough to set it up the night before, I do feel like the Lord of the Manor when I stumble into the kitchen and there's freshly brewed hot coffee waiting for me in the morning. Except when I oversleep and it gets stale and nasty; for that sole reason, I wouldn't mind being able to start my coffee maker while still lying in bed rather than relying on a timer. But there's no damn reason it needs to report my coffee brewing habits over the internet.

I actually just installed a smart thermostat this weekend, and I have to say being able to tinker with it while sitting on my lazy ass is pretty nice. And because it supports remote sensors I can now keep the coldest room in the house at a reasonable temperature without having to run a new thermostat wire. But I bought last year's model, because the new one is all integrated with Alexa and thanks but no thanks. I'm OK with my energy usage being datamined by a thermostat company, but I don't need fucking Amazon spamming me with advertisements for thermal underwear during a cold spell.
posted by Funeral march of an old jawbone at 7:11 PM on February 7 [1 favorite]


HTTP Error 418: I'm a Teapot
posted by BungaDunga at 7:35 PM on February 7 [20 favorites]


I went shopping for a tap-attached water filter yesterday and found one that had Bluetooth.

SYNTAX ERROR. ABORT, RETRY, IGNORE?
posted by loquacious at 7:36 PM on February 7 [1 favorite]


Honestly amazon I don't mind so much because their idiot algorithms are so comically primitive that when you buy a brand new ps4 it immediately starts showing you adverts encouraging you to purchase another brand new ps4 that is wholly identical in every way to the one you have just moments ago purchased.

When I buy 20 boxes of lactaid at a time every 4 months it offers to equip me with an amazon dash button that, when pressed, will send me a single box of lactaid, in an individual shipment, each time I press it. I buy laundry detergent, only one single brand of laundry detergent in the past 13 years, and in response to these unchanging repeated purchases amazon recommends to me literally every other brand of laundry detergent available worldwide, endlessly and without cease, without ever learning anything valuable from this wasted effort.

Meanwhile when the new book in a series of 10 books, each of which I have immediately preordered when available from amazon, is released, does amazon alert me that there is now available for purchase a book which I am statistically almost 100% guaranteed to buy immediately? No. It does not. It asks me if I want another ps4.
posted by poffin boffin at 7:41 PM on February 7 [74 favorites]


Why would you want a wifi coffee maker?

A desire to monitor a coffee maker via the internet is literally how the first webcam was invented.
posted by Jacqueline at 8:37 PM on February 7 [14 favorites]


But that was in a lab building, where there was a shared coffee maker, and where people probably worked day and night. It wasn't in some guy's house, where he knew if he had made coffee or not.
posted by thelonius at 8:46 PM on February 7 [8 favorites]


did you know many comcast cable modem/routers broadcast two ssids, one for you and one for anyone who happens to be passing by and is a comcast customer?

This explains so much to me! Thank you.

The highest tech I've ever hoped for
re: laundry is a web cam in a shared laundry room that will let me see how many machines are available before I schlep my laundry down four flights of stairs.

I saw internet refrigerators in Fry's in the mid-2000s. I scoffed then and I scoff now.
posted by bendy at 9:47 PM on February 7 [5 favorites]


The highest tech I've ever hoped for re: laundry is a web cam in a shared laundry room that will let me see how many machines are available before I schlep my laundry down four flights of stairs.

I had this in my apartment building in 2002, only it was CCTV and not over wifi. You'd just turn your TV to channel whatever and that was the Basement Channel. There was another one for the front door. It was great because I could avoid being alone down there with some dude.
posted by AFABulous at 10:18 PM on February 7 [15 favorites]


But you can block them.

The underlying assumption being that people should spend their time and effort in a cold war against their appliances and the lawyers that write the shrink-wrap agreements on their television streaming their information back to companies that are eager to monetize fundamental information about their pregnancies and so on.

We need regulations with teeth.
posted by sebastienbailard at 12:33 AM on February 8 [9 favorites]


For fuck's sake, I'm so bored I've been archiving and reading and re-reading all of Wikipedia just because I can!

This coffee maker is one depressive episode away from becoming Marvin the Paranoid Android
posted by lollymccatburglar at 4:59 AM on February 8 [8 favorites]


the teeth are also connected to the internets
posted by poffin boffin at 5:16 AM on February 8 [4 favorites]


I was thinking "don't give them the wifi password", but did you know many comcast cable modem/routers broadcast two ssids, one for you and one for anyone who happens to be passing by and is a comcast customer?

This makes me so angry for comcast customers. Not only do they have the worst ISP in the world, but it forces them to hand out free internet to every passing joe on their connection without telling them?

Re connected home: I have the Philips Hue lights and they are pretty nice. I have all my lamps on timers for when I need lights (with pretty colors!) and when it is too dark during the day I can remotely turn on the lights in the house so the dog isn't scared. But that is as 'frivolous convenience' as I'm willing to get with the IoS.
posted by winna at 5:17 AM on February 8 [1 favorite]


Over in another thread, Coventry linked to an even more ridiculous Internet of Things idea which has just been announced: L.L. Bean wants to put blockchain-enabled trackers into the clothing and boots they sell.

Your coffee maker might have Bluetooth, but I bet it doesn't have blockchain, you sooo-2017 Luddite.
posted by clawsoon at 5:25 AM on February 8 [1 favorite]


My partner and I were skeptical about smart homes until we learned we can trigger our lights by saying "Lumos!" and now we're plotting how best to use the Internet of Shit to turn our house into Hogwarts.

Hogwarts being connected to the Internet actually explains a lot of the erratic behavior of stairwells and such.
posted by tofu_crouton at 5:53 AM on February 8 [12 favorites]


What your smart fridge malfunctions, does it replace all your groceries with cacti?
posted by tobascodagama at 5:53 AM on February 8 [13 favorites]


Between this and the nuclear saber-rattling with DPRK, it seems like as good a time as any to revisit There Will Come Soft Rains...

Ray Bradbury's HappyLife Home has made more than one appearance.
posted by lagomorphius at 6:22 AM on February 8


> Just don't connect them to wifi.

That works for now but I see one day soon that "not connected" will be considered an error state and the thing either won't work or will have annoying error messages about how you're missing out on the full functionality of the thing until you get fed up and connect it.
posted by Gev at 7:02 AM on February 8 [6 favorites]


Well, for one narrow use case, I am confident that my apartment's neighbors are very happy that I have a bark-alerting treat-dispensing dog camera so I can intervene and rush right home if my pup starts howling in a rare fit of separation anxiety (or any other bark-triggering situation may happen while he's alone). Other people think it's ridiculous that I own a dog camera, and ok they're kinda right, but also it's made my life measurably better to be able to leave home without worrying as much, so. I'm sure other people have their own specific uses for devices that seem silly to me and I can respect that.

Sure, the privacy implications are not AWESOME, but I take the precautions I can & then I allow the benefits to outweigh the costs. Regulation with teeth would be a whole lot more productive than consigning the whole lot to junk.
posted by mosst at 7:08 AM on February 8


I came to this thread, I Ctrl-Fed for The Murderer, did not find it, and was disappointed. Although, to be specific, The Murderer was more about communications tech than home automation. Perhaps The Veldt would have been a better home-automation Bradbury to bring up.
posted by Fraxas at 7:16 AM on February 8 [3 favorites]


handling the coffee and the water and cleaning the carafe and all that stuff makes me more of a person.

I don’t really care for nor want internet-capable coffee makers, for privacy reasons. But I don’t understand this? Interacting with an older technology makes you more of a person than interacting with newer technology? Or, having the interaction be manual as opposed to vocal, or by means of photons makes you more of a person?
posted by eustacescrubb at 7:45 AM on February 8 [1 favorite]


Isn't this just another "watch me while I do a dumb thing!" hot-take piece? I mean, the whole thing is contrived even if you think "smart-home" might someday be a good idea (spoiler: it's not).
Mostly, though, why bother? This stuff is pants. I've watched home automation since the early days of X11, and I never quite got what it was for, aside from pointless geekery
EXACTLY. And I say this as someone that actually uses lots of gadgets and pointless geekery. I cannot imagine why I would want anything in my kitchen connected to the Internet. We DO use a first-gen Belkin Wemo on some lamps in our living room, but I figure usage data on two lamps isn't that interesting.

A fairly wealthy friend bought a house a few years ago that had some early home-auto stuff. Like, there were almost no hard switches anywhere, but every room had a touchscreen. Except it was the old style you had to press hard, not a modern iPhone-style touchscreen, and basically nothing about the system worked properly. It was, however, ABSURDLY expensive. The maker - AMX, I think - did begrudgingly offer an iPad app, but it was $1500, and could only be used by ONE iOS device in the home. If you wanted more than one? Another $1500.

Now you can string together most of what AMX was supposedly doing for vastly less money via things like Sonos and Belkin Wemo and such, but the new cost appears to be (a) hassle and (b) data surveillance, while the actual VALUE PROPOSITION remains super vague. 99% of automatic light use cases can be solved with relatively dumb timers, motion detectors, or door switches. Programmable thermostats existed well before Nest. Etc.

And don't get me started on "smart" TVs. I'm sure our next TV will have that capabilty, but I cannot IMAGINE why I'd trust and use Vizio's implementation of that stuff over my AppleTV. The TV just needs to be a dumb panel.

(Oh, and ALL drip coffeemakers are pants, from the $30 Mister Coffees to the $500 semi-auto FancyLad 5000. Just get a Chemex. You'll be happier, your coffee will taste better, you'll send less money, and you can clean the whole thing in 30 seconds.)
posted by uberchet at 8:04 AM on February 8 [3 favorites]


Maybe "more of a person" wasn't right, because I don't think that people who, like, have Alexa are "less of people". What I was trying to get at is that doing as great a variety of things as is reasonable given your daily life and condition makes your personality/brain/abilities/self broader. Obviously, people have different choices and different physical capacities, but I do think that given whatever range of choices we have, trying to do different stuff, have different experiences and have experiences in different modes is important.

In terms of the coffee: Making coffee is one of the ways that I do a process in the physical world. I handle the beans, I grind the coffee, I see and smell the water, I pay attention to the process of scrubbing out the carafe, I do a set of fine motions, I have a bunch of memories associated with these motions and things. I use my physical senses more and in different ways than when I'm scrolling or pushing buttons. I don't want everything to be ready for me at the push of a button or the wave of a hand, because then the only things I can do are waving my hand and saying "Alexa start the coffeemaker" or whatever.

Again, for me it's good to get up and physically turn on a light, or to have to get out of bed to make the coffee, or to sort and fold my own clothes or pull my own blinds. It's easy to reduce this to "why don't you build your own house and eat squirrels if you're so do-it-yourself", but I've definitely noticed that I am a happier person with more thinking and response capacity when I do things in different modes, and when everything isn't done for me - experience a variety of texture, motion, light, smell, sound, effort and fine motion, learn a number of small physical routines, remember a series of steps that need to be completed before a thing can be done.

I feel like there's a difference between non-push-button technologies and the dream of the totally automated house. The dream house seems to be one where you do as little as possible, and as much as possible is done by voice command or literally pushing a button or clicking a screen. It also seems to be a house that discourages thought and memory, which is wonderfully convenient except that exercising thought and memory helps preserve and extend them - it's super convenient never to have to pay attention to whether you are running low on milk because your refrigerator notices and orders a milk delivery so there's just always-already milk, but I don't want to get out of the habit of noticing and remembering the physical world around me. The internet has already trashed my attention span and imperiled my ability to read long or difficult texts, I don't want it to destroy my ability to make and follow a simple plan or a list.

It's not that I'm a more profound thinker or that I'm a nicer person because I, like, turn off the lights by hand, but that I have a wider and more complicated experience of the world when I minimize the button-pushing. All buttons are the same, all manual kitchen implements are woefully different.
posted by Frowner at 8:11 AM on February 8 [21 favorites]


the real question is how do you disable all this shit on your new appliances without having to physically smash components. do you have to keep your bathroom scale inside a faraday cage or what.

You joke, but I got a new CPAP machine last year, and they sent someone out to set it up. When I couldn't find the slot where you stick the card in to have it download the last 30 days of data (or whatever) like on every other machine I've ever had, I asked her about it, and she cheerfully replied "Oh, you don't have to bother with that anymore, it just sends it to your doctor automatically!"

There's no WiFi configuration screen, like on my thermostat (don't get me started on the damned thermostat). There's certainly no ethernet port. Which means the damn thing is talking over the CELLULAR network to report on my sleep habits, and is probably CCing the insurance company. Oh hell no.

Long story short, that's how I learned to identity a small cellular antenna embedded on a circuit board, and discovered how hot you have to have to get the glue you smother it in before it stops transmitting.
posted by Mayor West at 8:12 AM on February 8 [20 favorites]


What your smart fridge malfunctions, does it replace all your groceries with cacti?

No, but the food becomes sentient.
posted by Greg_Ace at 8:17 AM on February 8 [1 favorite]


As someone who forgot to put a cup under his Keurig* this morning, I guess I would appreciate some smart functionality like

IF (CUP FOUND)
THEN BREW
ELSE DISPLAY STR("YOU DUMBASS")
EXIT


*It was a gift. If you're gonna be a snob, request my address via memail and you can send me something else.
posted by AFABulous at 9:04 AM on February 8 [6 favorites]


AFABulus, I think you've basically got the kind of stuff that I mostly fantasize about smartness for. I have ADD and I live alone and yes, I struggle with a lot of really stupid stuff, and none of those things are huge, but the combined weight of all of them is a genuine burden. Because Frowner, the fact that you enjoy and get something out of the process of coffee-making does not make that true of everybody. Once in awhile, I enjoy making a production of coffee. This morning, I didn't even GET coffee because even with the Nespresso I turned out to have no clean mugs and I couldn't wrap my head around fixing that process and getting off to work and I was still fifteen minutes late.

A wifi coffeemaker is probably not going to get me much, but I can look at today's largely-useless smart home stuff and picture a point where my dishwasher, for example, knows that it didn't get those mugs clean because I'd left them sit too long and fixes that without my intervention while I'm sleeping and doesn't leave me coffeeless. Lots of other people don't have ADD but do have other drains on their mental energy--kids, stressful jobs--that seem like they make this a no-brainer. Keep the parts of the household management that give you pleasure, absolutely, but humans are not actually super good at the amount of executive function that modern society requires. I just want OPEN smartness, not proprietary Amazon/Facebook/Google-owned smartness, but I'm afraid that won't happen because the debate has become "only dumb people want smart homes" vs. "I will sell my soul to Amazon for ten seconds of novel voice-activated content" instead.
posted by Sequence at 9:18 AM on February 8 [3 favorites]


Also, none of the tasks mentioned in the last two comments require a network connection.
posted by Greg_Ace at 9:41 AM on February 8 [1 favorite]


I'd take blinds/curtains automation in a heartbeat, because we live in a ground level house near a park and I don't like not having blind/curtains when it's dark outside and it actually takes a while to go around and close them all. It would make sense since it would automate most of the task.

Smart appliances are useless unless they have lot of data to report or they do a mostly automated task. And having them on the internet is a risk unless you need to control them from outside the house. Also I don't run dishwashers & washing machines when I'm not home because WATER.
posted by WaterAndPixels at 9:44 AM on February 8 [2 favorites]


One of my big issues with this stuff, privacy aside, is that it's all so disposable like so much of our lives now. I mean, is anyone going to pass on an Alexa to their kids?

That being said, I kind of have a WiFi coffee machine. I have a WeMo plug for my huge espresso machine. I use it as a timer so the machine can pre-heat before we wake up. Because this is a beast of a machine and meant to last forever all the bits and pieces can be replaced. I did a kind of crappy job replacing the pump so it makes a loud priming noise when it's turned on. With the WeMo I can also turn the machine on remotely which I often do when driving home. My wife hears the machine and knows I'm on my way home. So maybe that's the techno future I live in now.
posted by misterpatrick at 10:00 AM on February 8 [2 favorites]


Also, none of the tasks mentioned in the last two comments require a network connection.

I mean, what are we worrying about, here--data security or Cylons? Open protocols and reasonable data security are something that I'm happy enough with in my use of the rest of the internet, and the lack thereof concerns me generally, not just with my appliances. I'm not afraid of network connections; I'm afraid of lack of firmware updates, proprietary software, and unethical data practices. I would far rather have a network-connected smart dishwasher that's actually going to receive updates than one without a network connection that will keep me safe from theoretical data issues but also possibly leave me with a useless brick in three years. For the moment, I'm more than happy with a dumb dishwasher, mind; it's not worth it now and it probably won't be, for me, for quite awhile.
posted by Sequence at 10:03 AM on February 8 [3 favorites]


Because Frowner, the fact that you enjoy and get something out of the process of coffee-making does not make that true of everybody. Once in awhile, I enjoy making a production of coffee. This morning, I didn't even GET coffee because even with the Nespresso I turned out to have no clean mugs and I couldn't wrap my head around fixing that process and getting off to work and I was still fifteen minutes late.

I have trouble with where this line of reasoning goes, since it seems to turn to "because this function is useful for people who need it to live in the world, therefore it is great for everyone, and if you say 'I don't think this is in fact a good thing for most people' you are therefore insulting anyone who needs the service".

Like, for instance, I have a spine injury from when I was young. As I've aged, I've become less and less able to walk or stand for longer than twenty to thirty minutes without a break. I can't go places that involve standing and walking unless I can readily sit for a few minutes every half hour, and I can't walk more than about 3/4 of a mile without needing to sit. I anticipate that the day is coming where I'll sometimes need a wheelchair if I want to visit museums. But walking is really good for most people. Most people should walk more. Most people should not tour museums via motorized chair, or bail on out of the protest march after 3/4 of a mile. Sitting is comfortable, minimizing the amount you walk is comfortable, walking isn't always especially fun or easy even for someone totally able-bodied and it's also slow, but the supports that I need to be able to participate in life are not supports that everyone needs or that are beneficial to everyone.

I don't feel like "smart homes" are being sold on the "do you have executive function issues? You might find this helpful" principle; they're being sold on the "it's a drag to have to turn on the lights, wouldn't it be cool if you could just stay in your chair reading Facebook as the day fades, conveniently providing more and more data and clicks".
posted by Frowner at 10:08 AM on February 8 [3 favorites]


I'm not afraid of network connections; I'm afraid of lack of firmware updates, proprietary software, and unethical data practices. I would far rather have a network-connected smart dishwasher that's actually going to receive updates than one without a network connection that will keep me safe from theoretical data issues but also possibly leave me with a useless brick in three years

Why would a smart dishwasher become a "useless brick" in three years without a firmware update unless it was designed to do so?

(Also, if you think having a network connection guarantees there will be someone on the other end pushing out firmware updates years later even if they're desperately needed, I have some bad news for you...)
posted by praemunire at 10:17 AM on February 8 [1 favorite]


I think most of the IOT products aren't very good, but there's tons of things I'd like to automate around the house:

The windows/ curtains should open/close automatically to save on electricity costs and properly regulate the temperature.

My sprinkler system should be able to water the plants in the zone for an appropriate amount of time for the the plants, not my best guess at how long it should run.

I should be able to pour the entire jar of detergent into the dishwasher & washing machine, and the sensors decide how much to use.

The auto door locks on fancy cars should be for houses, because carrying keys is occasionally inconvenient.

A roomba lawn mower would be great as long as it's not as useless as an actual roomba.

The IOT is half baked currently and the only things that are affordable are terrible.
posted by The_Vegetables at 10:21 AM on February 8 [2 favorites]


Bugs don't just apply to security. I want things that can think, but I don't have particular trust in the developers that they've literally tested for every eventuality and that something isn't going to show up in several years of regular usage that they didn't plan on. I'm absolutely not saying that I trust Amazon to provide updates. I just feel that there's a difference between "smart appliances with network connections are a terrible idea" and "unregulated badly-designed smart appliances are a terrible idea". And as those smart appliances get better, there's definitely going to be a lot of thinking that people have to do about where their priorities fall here, the same way most of us have done with our smartphones and computers.

Because it's not just about things that help those of us with actual clinical problems--my point is that I need the help even though I don't have any other strains on my time, but there's definitely lots of people who are going to potentially benefit from getting that bit of time and energy back for other reasons. I absolutely have a problem with the idea that this is going to be sold to them as a way to spend more time on Facebook, but that isn't the same thing as having a problem with the idea of a smart home.
posted by Sequence at 10:34 AM on February 8


Well, all right, I am persuaded that my blanket opposition to smart homes is wrong. Just like some people can, eg, drink Soylent 24/7 because they want more "time to code" and think that this makes them superior to people who waste time on eating, but most people use Soylent and other meal replacements either for health reasons or to fill in when they have significant constraints on their ability to prepare/eat other food.
posted by Frowner at 11:19 AM on February 8


"Just don't connect them to wifi."

They're unfortunately starting to connect straight to cellular networks. Especially when the CAT M chipsets based devices start to proliferate (when the prices get pushed down to below $10 per chip if it's not there yet). They'll put these chips everywhere - like trashcans....yes - they specifically used trashcans as example of where you can use these IoT chips for.
posted by 7life at 11:23 AM on February 8 [1 favorite]


I've definitely noticed that I am a happier person with more thinking and response capacity when I do things in different modes, and when everything isn't done for me - experience a variety of texture, motion, light, smell, sound, effort and fine motion, learn a number of small physical routines, remember a series of steps that need to be completed before a thing can be done.

Frowner, I agree. I don't think you are being overreaching at all, and I get your point. I think that while it can be jokey to use the old person way of saying it, "it builds character," that's kind of what you're getting at. Do we really want to move towards a society where we can sit still and go "HEY THINGS AROUND ME DO ALL THE THINGS?"

These devices AREN'T sold as assistive devices for people who have functional problems. Yes, they can help with various issues people have, but the MAJORITY of people will be using them in place of doing tasks themselves (and let's face it - most tasks these devices "make easier" aren't really that hard to begin with, again, for most people). It's worth asking why we need these things to be available on every device we own.

I personally do not understand why you'd need anything in your home beyond a few devices connected to the internet. Some of the potential for these to be abused by hackers, etc, is downright terrifying. And the impact on young kids could be profound. Today I saw an article recommending that kids have less than 2 hours of screen time per day, because more makes them unhappy. I think it makes us ALL unhappy. Interacting with a device that takes care of something itself instead of accomplishing something on your own - sure, for a few things, great. But if it can increase to certain degree, where is our sense of accomplishment?

There's no putting the genie back in the bottle, I know that. But I also know that for those of us who have a choice about using these things - we should really think about whether it's worth it for our sense of self.
posted by agregoli at 11:52 AM on February 8 [2 favorites]


There was a post 2 years ago about an Internet-connected refrigerator that lost functionality when Google updated its API but the manufacturer didn't update their end. I didn't expand all of the comments on the support thread but judging from the most recent (Feb 2), it seems like you have to literally take apart the fridge to fix something.
posted by AFABulous at 12:26 PM on February 8


oh, looks like the most recent comment was last February. In any case, your refrigerator should be completely functional and supported for more than a couple of years. Phones are pretty much disposable now, but you can go get a new one. If you buy a refrigerator, you can't easily replace the whole thing every 5 years. I'm not the target market for this anyway, but I sure hope I'll be able to buy a nice refrigerator without all that crap when it comes time.
posted by AFABulous at 12:39 PM on February 8


I have some pretty major executive functioning issues (until recently I thought I'd gotten an IQ test when it was 12, but it turns out it was partly an IQ test and mostly a test confirming that I have pretty severe executive functioning problems). I'm decidedly not into smart home stuff. It's partly an ideological anti-corporate thing, but I also don't think it would actually help me that much. You have to (as AFABulous pointed out) remember to put the coffee cup in the thing and fill it. You have to remember to set the thing, and prep the other thing. It just shunts my executive functioning issues into other places for me to forget.

For perspective on how bad I am with executive functioning, I have never been able to make or use a to do list, because I literally could not remember to start it, or if I did somehow start it, I'd forget to check it and it would sit empty for months.

I do think technology can be helpful. For the first time ever, I actually do have a to do list, and it's all thanks to task planning software that I downloaded in a fit of procrastination. But it only works because it's centralized, always literally right in front of me, and requires no prep whatsoever. I've had it for two weeks and already tasks are starting to go ignored (not helped by the "do tomorrow" button), but two weeks beats my last record by, er, two weeks.

Smart home stuff is still the stuff, for me at least. Smart lightbulbs still require that you replace your lightbulbs eventually - any real benefit there comes from long-life LED bulbs. Your fridge can, I don't know, put up a sign that says "buy more eggs," but it doesn't make eggs magically appear. Even if it could, I feel like the gain for me would be pretty minor, compared to how much I'd be losing out on things I truly value, like privacy and not being yoked to license agreements for an effing toaster. I value my independence, and as much as I genuinely struggle with executive functioning problems, I don't want the solution to be that I give some control over my life to companies like Amazon for what may turn out to be less of a gain than it seems from the outside.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 12:50 PM on February 8 [3 favorites]


If you buy a refrigerator, you can't easily replace the whole thing every 5 years
Sure you can. Decent refrigerators now cost less than fancy phones. But 'can' definitely doesn't equal 'should'.
posted by The_Vegetables at 12:54 PM on February 8


Some people can afford that but it is not at all practical for most of us. Com'on now.
posted by agregoli at 1:04 PM on February 8 [1 favorite]


Our most-used smart home device has just informed us that one of the cats has pooped.




It's a small surveillance camera set up in the laundry room so we can check on (a) if the younger cat is upset at something again and is letting us know by pooping on the floor just outside the litterbox and (b) if the older cat has another UTI, whose symptoms involve an increased frequency of litterbox visits. It emails us a burst of 6 photos every time it detects motion, and we keep it on a separate network from the one our computers and phones occupy.
posted by telophase at 1:09 PM on February 8 [3 favorites]


Some people can afford that but it is not at all practical for most of us. Com'on now.
I'm not kidding. A regular fridge like your parents probably had is less than $500 now. A generic smartphone costs that much. How many people have a 5 year old iphone or android phone?
posted by The_Vegetables at 1:20 PM on February 8


Literally the only reason many people replace their phones as often as they do is because they have to. If people had the option to keep their phones for 5 or 10 years, many, many people would. If your refrigerator is working, there is literally no reason to replace it. That is a total waste of money that most of us cannot afford. I do not want to live in a future where I have to replace my refrigerator as often as my smartphone, because it sucks enough having to replace the one.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 1:24 PM on February 8 [12 favorites]


To say nothing of the fact that a smartphone is a portable computer that people rely on for countless daily tasks, whereas a refrigerator keeps your food cold.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 1:26 PM on February 8 [1 favorite]


Also the waste of materials! Bad enough that we all throw away so many clothes and so much food and plastic - we should also start throwing away all our large appliances every four years or so?
posted by Frowner at 1:27 PM on February 8 [5 favorites]


A fridge at $500 is a huge expense every five years for me. I have a Samsung S5, which is at least 3 years old at this point, and I'm not getting a new one any time soon. Phones are frequently paid for slowly. A credit card at an appliance dealer is not an option for me. You should know that most people don't have the capital to replace huge necessary things like fridges every 5 years. And I don't want to live in a world where we have to.
posted by agregoli at 1:33 PM on February 8 [3 favorites]


> it doesn't make eggs magically appear.

Integration with Amazon Fresh and it definitely could.
posted by BungaDunga at 2:38 PM on February 8


You joke, but I got a new CPAP machine last year, and they sent someone out to set it up....

I DON'T JOKE THIS IS PRECISELY MY FEAR oh my god what a fucking ordeal
posted by poffin boffin at 2:51 PM on February 8


Replacing fridges also usually involves a lot of lost food and having to pay to have it brought into your dwelling and more for your old fridge to be taken away.
posted by tavella at 2:57 PM on February 8 [1 favorite]


Why are we talking about $500 refrigerators? There are no wifi-capable refrigerators for $500. I only looked at Home Depot but the cheapest touchscreen I found was $2300 on sale. (Samsung RF265BEAESR in case of link rot). There's no way an internet connected refrigerator is going to cost anywhere near the same as a phone.

All display screens (like on the refrigerator) should be removable and replaceable, and you should be able to buy the appliance without it for a discount. The non-sale price of the one linked above is $3777. The same fridge without the doodad is $3221. For $556 just get a tablet and strong magnets, and replace that every X years.

"Leave notes, sync calendars, and display your photos on the Family Hub™" You can also watch Netflix and shit while you're, idk, waiting for your leftovers in the microwave? It's fucking ridiculous.
posted by AFABulous at 6:15 PM on February 8 [5 favorites]


WHY WOULD YOU STAND IN FRONT OF YOUR FRIDGE AND WATCH VIDEOS?? I need to know who these people are.
posted by AFABulous at 6:16 PM on February 8 [7 favorites]


they are bad people who come from a bad place where people are bad
posted by poffin boffin at 7:01 PM on February 8 [5 favorites]


I bet the White House has one.
posted by AFABulous at 7:11 PM on February 8 [1 favorite]


I attended a set of presentations by various network industry security experts about a year ago on the future of networking, security, and network convergency. I.e. how, in the future, to use a specific example by one speaker, how your smartwatch, thermostat, social networking analysis of what your friends are eating, medical records, refrigerator monitor, food shopping habits, bank account contents, and so on will result, once they can all exchange information with some sort of aggregator/AI software such as Watson, means that you will never have to ask the question “what will I have for dinner?”  Instead, when you get hone, a bag of groceries will be waiting for you, your refrigerator will have a recipe on it for the menu that has been decided you should eat, and all you have to do is follow the instructions for a meal that is, according to all these inputs, exactly what you want and need.

While I find that unlikely except for a very few privileged and interested individuals, what I do find likely is that your health insurer will decide all you get to eat today is raw kale and water or it will cancel your policy. That your employer will note that you bought too much alcohol and mandate counseling. That the grocery ordering service, having decided your recent raise means more of your income should go to its corporate masters, will suddenly include filet mignon and truffles instead of your usual hamburger. But, while creepy and almost certainly aimed at extracting as much money as possible from your account, that doesn’t strike me as the most likely outcome over the long term.

All of this assumes that you have a certain level of affluence — home delivered groceries, smart watches, enough disposable income to have active IOT (Internet Of Things) in your home, and that your maintain a social networking presence. Looking around the conference, the vast majority are male, white, and affluent enough to spend three days at a technology conference — and they mostly seem enthusiastic about such services and new technologies. Of course, you can take steps to minimize your digital fingerprints. But who’s going to bother other than the paranoid and ultra-wealthy who can opt out of such things? Certainly not these technocrats and net-wizards.

During the McCarthy era, they had to rely on people admitting, admittedly under duress, to being a Communist and turning in others to avoid having their lives and livelihoods destroyed. Now, should we end up with similar socio-political witchhunts, instead you will find out that not only do they know you’re a Communist (or atheist, Jewish, Muslim, anarchist, etc) based on emails, chats, messages, and so on, but the government secretly turned on the microphones and cameras on all your networked devices, including said refrigerator and thermostat as well as the expected phone and computers, as well as that of all you contacts and intimates, and people who they correlated your location with so that even if no electronic communication happened, they know who to tar with the same brush. But we know, or at least strongly suspect, that all this is already going on.

When someone does something wrong, but not wrong enough to actually throw them into a prison so they are physically separated from the rest of society, we attach a collar to a leg, so their location can be monitored and alert the enforcers should you stray from the permitted areas. Now with just about everyone carrying at least one cell phone, just about everyone the government has an interest in now has such a tracker.

Who does society currently “hunt?” We’ve seen police target people of color — do you think that these systems in the hands of law enforcement won’t become the new tools of oppression? While not as satisfying as shooting a despised minority or beating them up, finding a legitimate reason to secure a conviction for someone on anything they’ve done that might be illegal simply becomes a matter of data mining, severely limiting their future options in terms of employment, education, and quality of life. We know that the FBI had a mandate to find something, anything on certain people: legitimately for Capone, less so for MLK Jr. — now imagine what Hoover’s men could have done today, with the kind of information integration that these leaders say is already going on, secretly and openly? Certainly the Stazi and KGB would have loved this level of surveillance, along with the internal security apparatus of every other fascist/totalitarian government.

And that’s just the current status quo. If we undergo a war, or suffer another major terrorist attack, or for some reason decide some hated class of humanity deserves official scrutiny and control, that’s just about it for that group: no hiding, no escape will suffice to avoid the scarlet letter and officially mandated punishment.

This seems to me to be inevitable. The kind of people who are desirous of this power want the resulting control — the billionaires who fund the companies developing these tools are, if the psychologists and economists are right, terrified that the masses will take their hoarded wealth and remove their privileges. They generally desire wealth for its power, and will use that power to preserve their privilege, even if it means oppressing the other 99.99% of humanity, assisted by the 1% who just think they have wealth and power, and the 30% who are sure that one day they’ll be one of the few people who actually matter to this kind of mindset.

Sadly, I don’t have an answer to how to prevent this grim meathook future of soussurveillance and top-down control. Dr. David Brin’s answer, of “looking back at the watchers,” assumes they’ll allow that, which is contrary to human nature; the other solutions of abandoning technology, or somehow legislating all the bad actors into being nice, strike me as just pollyannaism, unrealistic optimism.

And the worst thing is that all the benefits will be viewed as enough of a carrot to hide the stick, and that we’ll end up in an unrecognized dystopia, impossible to remove because the vast majority of people can’t even see the downside of being watched and controlled all the time. And this vision of the future these professional visionaries and technologists presented received a standing ovation from the engineers and other attendees.
posted by Blackanvil at 8:48 PM on February 8 [9 favorites]


The only thing that should connect to the Internet is a computer. If something is not a computer—a car, a pone, a book, an ice machine—and connects to the Internet, it is abusing you and doing a disservice, especially if it is running proprietary software. Just boycott all of these goods and encourage your friends to do the same (and push for laws to stop mass corporate/government surveillance).
posted by koavf at 10:50 PM on February 8 [1 favorite]


All display screens (like on the refrigerator) should be removable and replaceable, and you should be able to buy the appliance without it for a discount.

It's no accident that you can't buy the components separately. If appliances had replaceable parts that were easily user-serviceable, how would Samsung get you to keep buying $3800 refrigerators every few years? Plus, I bet the moment you pop the access panel off the front you've voided your warranty and violated the EULA (which you accepted by opening the front panel, natch), and the thing is internet-connected so now it just phoned home to tell them you violated the EULA, so now your fridge is going to spite you by turning the temperature down to -5 for the beer, and up to a balmy 55 for all the dairy items.
posted by Mayor West at 5:10 AM on February 9


My Samsung smart-TV is a few years old now, and it at one point stopped support YouTube because YouTube had changed their API and Samsung couldn't be bothered to update the TV. Good thing was that their YouTube client was possibly the most useless piece of software that could be released and still claim the title "YouTube Client". It didn't support related videos, didn't know about users or playlists or anything. It was just a text search and the possibility to watch videos that you found through the text search.

By that point in time the PlayStation 3 YT client had just evolved into something useful, so I've never looked back. What I should have done is march right back into the store and demanded my money back since my TV did not do any more what I bought it for (I live in Norway where articles like TVs are under a mandatory warranty until five years old).

When time comes for a new TV, I will try and find the dumbest piece of display technology available, and trust my PlayStation or whatever to provide the content.
posted by Harald74 at 6:47 AM on February 9 [1 favorite]


Since they started deporting legal immigrants, our current administration is putting the lie to "you don't have anything to worry about if you're not doing anything wrong." I'm sure Alexa et al can recognize Spanish, Arabic, and certain keywords. Coupled with other data, it wouldn't be difficult to narrow down lists of suspects and as pointed out in the article, you can predict when someone will be home.

My (white, ex-cop) stepdad used this argument and I stopped him by pointing out that homosexuality used to be illegal, and there's no reason it - or any other "deviant" behavior - couldn't be made illegal again. We are all vulnerable if the people in power make us so. Look at how many things have happened in the past year that we thought "could never happen here."

It's almost enough to make me chuck my electronics out the window. I wish I had some other skill, like I don't know, lumberjacking? where internet access is (presumably) irrelevant. I'm frequently tempted to abandon all my accounts and do as much as I can offline (e.g. banking in person, paying bills by mail). But I've been lured into the maw, and instead I just watch what I say.
posted by AFABulous at 9:40 AM on February 9 [4 favorites]


When time comes for a new TV, I will try and find the dumbest piece of display technology available, and trust my PlayStation or whatever to provide the content.
You may not be able to find a proper dumb TV, but you can and should refuse to add it to your network. Trust your Playstation -- or your Xbox, your Roku, your AppleTV, etc.
posted by uberchet at 12:17 PM on February 9


my playstation has already seen me spend many hours looking for the most romantic possible moonlit hissing wastes vista upon which to stand iron bull and dorian so they can start their romance conversations, so honestly if they want to sell that information to advertisers i encourage them to do so in order to be very specifically pandered to.
posted by poffin boffin at 3:51 PM on February 9 [3 favorites]


AFABulous: I wish I had some other skill, like I don't know, lumberjacking? where internet access is (presumably) irrelevant.

I'm willing to bet that [googles] yep, the forestry business is full of web-connected software to keep track of trees.

I expect that the more remote your job, the more likely your boss is to want to attach a GPS device to you so that you can be rescued if anything goes wrong.

You'll probably have to go Amish.
posted by clawsoon at 4:25 PM on February 9


Remote pet checkers are going to be big. People want to know whether their pets are OK at home or out wandering. And then they'll be rebranded as remote kid checkers and spouse spies and employee monitors...
posted by pracowity at 4:58 AM on February 14


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