It was not that long ago that science fiction authors and futurists warned of intrusive technology in the hands of repressive governments and unethical corporations. Classics liked 1984 and Brave New World imagined a future controlled by technology, one where the most private actions, and even thoughts, of its citizens were monitored 24 hours a day and ultimately used against them.
Now that 1984 is decades in the past, and Brave New World is taught in high school English classes, the future has not worked out quite as those authors imagined. While large parts of those classic works of literature have indeed come true, the roles technology plays in modern life is a bit more nuanced.
The current desire for smart speakers, internet-enabled television set, and streaming services offers a unique case study. While Orwell warned of a future where all citizens were required to install intrusive telescreens, today people are welcoming similar devices into their homes with open arms and paying for the privilege.
The Alexa smart speaker on your bedside table and the Netflix-enabled TV on your living room wall may seem innocent enough, but they bear more than a passing similarity to the telescreens Orwell imagined in that long ago dystopian classic.
They may not have a direct line to a repressive government, but these devices are controlled by corporations many believe are at least as powerful as the politicians arguing over the future of technology. There have been documented instances of Amazon, Google, and other tech giants listening in on the connected devices they sell, and that certainly feels like an invasion of privacy.
When you consider that many smart speakers sit idly by the bed, the implications are clear enough. So how can you protect your privacy, and the intimacy of your relationship, without worrying about prying eyes (and ears) half a world away? Here are some tips for keeping your smart home on the good side of the creepy line.
Cover the Camera
It may be a low-tech solution, but it works. Many devices, from smartphones and tablets to television sets, some equipped with an embedded camera. If you want to stop prying eyes, a simple piece of black tape should do the trick.
If you want a more ascetic solution, you can purchase special covers for these connected cameras. But no matter how you do it, simply covering the camera is the simplest way to protect your privacy.
Do Your Homework
Some tech firms are more sensitive to privacy concerns than others, so do your homework and vote with your shopping dollars. Purchasing the least intrusive tech devices is a great way to protect yourself without giving up the advantages a smart home provides.
You can start by reading the tech press on a regular basis and looking for stories about data breaches and privacy invasions. Over time, you will probably notice a pattern, and that can help you steer clear of the most obtrusive companies.
Delete Your History
Smart speakers like Alexa and Google Home are always on and always listening. How do you think they are able to answer your inquiries so quickly? These devices are designed to “wake up” when you say the magic word, but they are constantly listening in the background, and the data they collect could create some serious privacy issues.
If you want to keep your conversations as personal as possible, deleting your history is a good place to start. It may not solve all your privacy concerns, but reducing the amount of data your smart devices maintain does provide a basic level of protection.
Update Your Privacy Settings
From Google and Facebook to Amazon and Netflix, big tech firms do give their consumers some control over their data, but they do not make those setting easy to find. Sometimes the instructions for updating privacy settings are buried in the fine print; other times customers need to dig even deeper to find them.
It may be hard to do, but finding, reviewing, and updating your privacy settings is well worth the effort. Once you find the specific settings, you can control everything from what type of information the company shares with third parties to how long records are retained. It may not solve all your privacy woes, but taking proactive action can be more effective than you realize.
Technology has come a long way in a surprisingly short period of time. A decade ago, smartphones sightings were rare, but today they are everywhere. The same goes for streaming music or binge-watching your favorite shows on your brand new smart TV. But those advances have come with some costs, and the loss of privacy is perhaps the most serious. If you want to protect your privacy in the digital age, you need to take action and not just wait around for the politicians to do something.