Smart-home devices like thermostats and fridges may be too smart for comfort – especially in a country with few laws preventing the sale of digital data to third parties
You may have a roommate you have never met. And even worse, they are nosy. They track what you watch on TV, they track when you leave the lights on in the living room, and they even track whenever you use a key fob to enter the house. This is the reality of living in a “smart home”: the house is always watching, always tracking, and sometimes it offers that data up to the highest bidder – or even to police.
This problem stems from the US government buying data from private companies, a practice increasingly unearthed in media investigations though still quite shrouded in secrecy. It’s relatively simple in a country like the United States without strong privacy laws: approach a third-party firm that sells databases of information on citizens, pay them for it and then use the data however deemed fit. The Washington Post recently reported – citing documents uncovered by researchers at the Georgetown school of law – that US Immigration and Customs Enforcement has been using this very playbook to buy up “hundreds of millions of phone, water, electricity and other utility records while pursuing immigration violations”.
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