Is It Smart to Have a Smart Home?

The risks and hassles might outweigh the rewards

12 May 2017

Smart homes can unlock your front door for expected visitors, begin brewing coffee right before you get out of bed, and adjust lighting to suit your mood. Amazon, Google, Samsung, and other high-tech companies are developing smart-home products to make people’s lives more comfortable. Smart-home technology is already a multibillion-dollar business, according to trade organization CEDIA (Custom Electronic Design and Installation Association). Research firm Markets and Markets predicts the global smart-home market will be a US $120 billion industry by 2022. But not without consumer acceptance first.

One of the obstacles the industry faces is that consumers are unsure of what a smart home is, according to Orrin Charm, founder of Charm and Imagination, a smart-home installation company in Woodland Hills, Calif. And even if consumers are familiar with the concept, they often don’t want to go through the trouble and cost of connecting the devices.

“What people are looking for is not necessarily an entire smart home,” Charm says, “but for specific applications such as turning out the lights without getting out of bed, or the ability to check whether the garage door is open when they’re away from home.”

More possibilities of what tech can do for people in their homes are emerging every day, he says. But, he adds, not everyone thinks the devices are worth the trouble.

ENTER AT YOUR OWN RISK

Smart-home benefits can pose security and privacy concerns. In the public realm, smart devices have been marshaled in distributed-denial-of-service attacks. More than 500,000 devices connected to the Internet were simultaneously hijacked in October to flood a major domain-name server, overwhelming it and making it unavailable to users.

Within home systems, hackers could use smart devices to figure out when you’re not home. They could determine through an intelligent lighting system when your lights are turned off. And they could use your home’s smart locks to learn whether you’ve left for the day, then open them to unauthorized people. Or the hackers could lock you out of your home.

In addition to taking control of such individual systems, hackers could create more elaborate mischief by taking over a home’s central control hub. And virtual assistants, like the Amazon Echo—which can be used to control smart appliances and devices—are laden with their own potential privacy problems.

TO COEXIST

The other big concern, according to Charm, is having all the smart-home devices seamlessly integrated, because they are designed by different manufacturers.

“While hiring a smart-home integrator and letting him suggest workable solutions avoids this problem, it will cost far more than going to home improvement stores,” he says.

The problem is that the store’s employees likely can’t tell you how various products, such as a smart refrigerator and an intelligent lighting system, will integrate into your home with the devices you already have. And because most such devices communicate with one another wirelessly, often with different protocols, it can be difficult to set up many products on one network.

Have you considered smart technologies for your home? Do you believe the conveniences they offer outweigh the potential concerns?

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