It’s no secret that things are getting smarter. Devices let parents check in on sleeping babies and keep track of children when they are away from home. Home management systems turn on lights, lock doors and monitor use of water or electricity. Entertainment apps notice what we like so they can offer similar products. Even little kids have apps and toys that learn their preferences by interacting with them.
All of these devices are “smart” because they are collecting information about our families—what we like, where we go, what we do and even what we say.
A few tips to keep your info safe:
- Purchase from reputable companies that make the extra effort to build security into their products. Before buying anything that claims to be smart, find out whether there is a procedure for updating security if the device is hacked.
- Figure out exactly what information the device collects. Give permission only for what’s needed to make it functional.
- Understand what use is made of the information. Many companies collect information to spot trends to improve their products. Some share information with government agencies or sell it to other unrelated companies. Depending on the situation, these policies may seem perfectly OK or highly intrusive. You can’t make an informed decision unless you understand the company’s policy.
Hacking is a risk even for products purchased from a reliable company that handles information responsibly. Unlike computers and phones which come with security systems and update procedures, devices are not required to have protection. As a result, they may give hackers backdoor access to wireless systems and sensitive data.
Consumers can defend themselves by taking these precautions:
Install updates. Responsible companies develop fixes as soon as they are aware of problems, but those solutions won’t help if you don’t install updates. Keep track of the smart devices your family uses. Set up software so updates are downloaded automatically if possible.
Take passwords seriously. Many experts recommend a unique password for each device. That way, even if one device is compromised, hackers won’t have access to other information.
Pay special attention to microphones and cameras. Because devices with these can eavesdrop on your family, they require extra supervision. Learn how to disable cameras and mute microphones when they aren’t in use. Or cover lenses with privacy stickers.
Consider a separate
Wifi connection. As smart devices proliferate, some experts suggest having two password protected Wifi connections for your home. One provides access to computers, tablets and cellphones. The other allows communication among things—toys, toasters, thermostats and home management systems like Amazon’s Echo or Google’s Home. Most families will need a professional to make sure everything is configured properly.
Smart devices have the potential to make family life more convenient and entertaining, but they can also be an expensive distraction. Ultimately, parents have to be the smart ones, evaluating each product to decide whether it’s useful enough—and secure enough–to deserve a place in your home.