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Beware of the Refrigerator

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With the purchase of Dropcam by Nest, owned by Google, the announcement of the HomeKit platform by Apple at WWDC, and the release of Samsung's Smart Home at CES earlier this year, the tech giants signaled that they are committed to interacting with consumers outside of the traditional mobile and desktop devices.

While the companies' approaches to "smart homes" are different, with each leveraging their existing assets (Google - Nest, Apple - app platform, Samsung - home appliances), concerns about privacy remain.

Technology companies will know when we open the refrigerator, forget to turn off the oven, and leave the lights on in the bedroom. The increase in the granularity of the collected data of people's movements broaches a new set of issues with regards to what consumers are willing to share versus the compelling benefits of having such technology integrated in a home. Although the use cases of this data are seemingly limitless, the ways in which tech companies will actually utilize the data remains unclear.

In a blog post last week, Nest stated that:

Like Nest customer data, Dropcam will come under Nest's privacy policy, which explains that data won't be shared with anyone (including Google) without a customer's permission. Nest has a paid-for business model and ads are not part of our strategy. In acquiring Dropcam, we'll apply that same policy to Dropcam too.

While ad supported platforms often offer free products in exchange for information from consumers, ranging from phrases entered into a search engine to updates of our social media profiles, smart homes involve hard goods that are purchased. Should we be relieved by that? Is the Metafilter quote "If you are not paying for it, you're not the customer; you're the product being sold" still relevant?

Of course, privacy is incredibly important to consumers, and the breach of privacy, whether through hacking or being inundated with advertisements, is a serious matter. What we tend to forget is that ultimately, the responsibility of privacy management does not rest solely on the shoulders of technology companies; it rests on consumers too. More often than not, we eagerly participate, if not outright embrace, the various apps and devices that provide incredible benefits in terms of safety, convenience, and general improvement in our daily lives. These benefits do (and should) have a cost associated with them. Whether that cost is simply the monetary transaction linked to the purchase of smart home products or evolves to something far more like Big Brother is yet to be seen. However, for the symbiotic relationship between companies and consumers to thrive, trust is paramount.

The myriad of issues associated with this will require a dialogue between tech firms and consumers to determine proper costs and benefits. That said, in light of a generation who so easily tags photos on Instagram, shares articles on Twitter, swipes right on Tinder, posts updates on Facebook, rents apartments on Airbnb, perhaps we have already grown comfortable with strangers, and perhaps we gave up our privacy a long time ago.

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