Should You Have a Smart Home?

Data safety should be your first consideration...

Actually, that’s a trick question. Many devices and appliances that are purchased today for purely practical reasons offer internet connections.  The user can usually refuse to connect to the internet, although installers are likely to argue against that option. What is unarguable is that the user will lose a lot of functionality if there is no internet connection. So the question really is how much internet connectivity, how much to integrate it, and how to keep your data safe.

Data safety should be the first consideration. There are all sorts of examples that verge on the ludicrous. My personal favorite is the fact that a connected robot vacuum could theoretically map a home and send the map to a manufacturer or third party, although I don’t know that has ever happened. Burger King ran an ad that triggered voice-activated Google Home to play a list of its burger ingredients. Less funny is people outside the home being able to pick up one of the voice-activated devices and do mischief or control functions like unlocking doors. Not funny at all was a doll made for young children that recorded conversations and made them available on Bluetooth links.

Consumers should never assume that manufacturers of home devices are concerned about protecting their data; for the most part they are not. Consumers should adopt these devices as they make sense for their own lifestyles and take responsibility for protecting data themselves. Immediately change the manufacturer-supplied password and be sure that software updates are enabled. Then check the website of your internet security system for additional advice or look for helpful tips on reputable sites.

With those basics in mind, think about ways in which smart devices can make life safer, more convenient and even save money. Here’s a good article for seniors, especially those with mobility or other issues. Everyone should read this article, not necessarily to understand the technical terms, but to get an idea of how smart products work together.

That leads to the issue of a hub that connects multiple devices; there are several highly-rated ones discussed on the web. But before you buy a hub device, consider other options. The voice assistants in Apple, Amazon and Google products can control many compatible products. Devices can also be controlled on home security systems. Be sure to look at the manufacturer’s list of compatible devices before you buy. Smart devices can also be controlled from the home wi-fi network using separate apps for each device or set of devices.

Each one of us should probably explore smart devices to meet our particular needs. However, I recommend going slow to prevent wasting money and getting frustrated. First, consider your own lifestyle and what automated services could make it more pleasant, even safer. Then think about what you already have that could be used to provide services. For instance, Alexa has downloadable ‘skills’ that do many things. Only after making use of what you already have should you begin to buy smart products. Have a long range plan for how many you want to connect to a single control device and what that device is going to be. Then buy only the one most desirable product for your lifestyle. Learn to use that successfully before you consider buying another. You might consider trying smart light bulbs as a relatively inexpensive starter, especially if getting up to turn lights off and on is burdensome.

Some reading and thinking may help improve your quality of life at a relatively small cost.


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