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  • Kashmir Hill: So for my birthday last year,

  • my husband got me an Amazon Echo.

  • I was kind of shocked, actually,

  • because we both work in privacy and security.

  • (Laughter)

  • And this was a device that would sit in the middle of our home

  • with a microphone on,

  • constantly listening.

  • We're not alone, though.

  • According to a survey by NPR and Edison Research,

  • one in six American adults now has a smart speaker,

  • which means that they have a virtual assistant at home.

  • Like, that's wild.

  • The future, or the future dystopia, is getting here fast.

  • Beyond that, companies are offering us all kinds of internet-connected devices.

  • There are smart lights, smart locks, smart toilets, smart toys,

  • smart sex toys.

  • Being smart means the device can connect to the internet,

  • it can gather data,

  • and it can talk to its owner.

  • But once your appliances can talk to you,

  • who else are they going to be talking to?

  • I wanted to find out,

  • so I went all-in and turned my one-bedroom apartment in San Francisco

  • into a smart home.

  • I even connected our bed to the internet.

  • As far as I know, it was just measuring our sleeping habits.

  • I can now tell you that the only thing worse

  • than getting a terrible night's sleep

  • is to have your smart bed tell you the next day

  • that you "missed your goal and got a low sleep score."

  • (Laughter)

  • It's like, "Thanks, smart bed.

  • As if I didn't already feel like shit today."

  • (Laughter)

  • All together, I installed 18 internet-connected devices in my home.

  • I also installed a Surya.

  • Surya Mattu: Hi, I'm Surya.

  • (Laughter)

  • I monitored everything the smart home did.

  • I built a special router that let me look at all the network activity.

  • You can think of my router sort of like a security guard,

  • compulsively logging all the network packets

  • as they entered and left the smart home.

  • KH: Surya and I are both journalists, he's not my husband,

  • we just work together at Gizmodo.

  • SM: Thank you for clarifying.

  • The devices Kashmir bought --

  • we were interested in understanding

  • what they were saying to their manufacturers.

  • But we were also interested in understanding

  • what the home's digital emissions look like

  • to the internet service provider.

  • We were seeing what the ISP could see, but more importantly,

  • what they could sell.

  • KH: We ran the experiment for two months.

  • In that two months,

  • there wasn't a single hour of digital silence in the house --

  • not even when we went away for a week.

  • SM: Yeah, it's so true.

  • Based on the data, I knew when you guys woke up and went to bed.

  • I even knew when Kashmir brushed her teeth.

  • I'm not going to out your brushing habits,

  • but let's just say it was very clear to me when you were working from home.

  • KH: Uh, I think you just outed them to, like, a lot of people here.

  • SM: Don't be embarrassed, it's just metadata.

  • I knew when you turned on your TV and how long you watched it for.

  • Fun fact about the Hill household:

  • they don't watch a lot of television,

  • but when they do, it's usually in binge mode.

  • Favorite shows include "Difficult People" and "Party Down."

  • KH: OK, you're right, I loved "Party Down."

  • It's a great show, and you should definitely watch it.

  • But "Difficult People" was all my husband, Trevor.

  • And Trevor was actually a little upset that you knew about his binges,

  • because even though he'd been the one to connect the TV to the router,

  • he forgot that the TV was watching us.

  • It's actually not the first time that our TV has spied on us.

  • The company that made it, VIZIO,

  • paid a 2.2 million-dollar settlement to the government just last year,

  • because it had been collecting second-by-second information

  • about what millions of people were watching on TV, including us,

  • and then it was selling that information to data brokers and advertisers.

  • SM: Ah, classic surveillance economy move.

  • The devices Kashmir bought almost all pinged their servers daily.

  • But do you know which device was especially chatty?

  • The Amazon Echo.

  • It contacted its servers every three minutes,

  • regardless of whether you were using it or not.

  • KH: In general, it was disconcerting

  • that all these devices were having ongoing conversations

  • that were invisible to me.

  • I mean, I would have had no idea, without your router.

  • If you buy a smart device, you should probably know --

  • you're going to own the device,

  • but in general, the company is going to own your data.

  • And you know, I mean, maybe that's to be expected --

  • you buy an internet-connected device, it's going to use the internet.

  • But it's strange to have these devices

  • moving into the intimate space that is the home

  • and allowing companies to track our really basic behavior there.

  • SM: So true.

  • Even the most banal-seeming data can be mined by the surveillance economy.

  • For example, who cares how often you brush your teeth?

  • Well, as it turns out, there's a dental insurance company called Beam.

  • They've been monitoring their customers' smart toothbrushes since 2015 --

  • for discounts on their premiums, of course.

  • KH: We know what some of you are thinking:

  • this is the contract of the modern world.

  • You give up a little privacy,

  • and you get some convenience or some price breaks in return.

  • But that wasn't my experience in my smart home.

  • It wasn't convenient, it was infuriating.

  • I'll admit, I love my smart vacuum,

  • but many other things in the house drove me insane:

  • we ran out of electrical outlets,

  • and I had to download over a dozen apps to my phone

  • to control everything.

  • And then every device had its own log-in,

  • my toothbrush had a password ...

  • (Laughter)

  • And smart coffee, especially, was just a world of hell.

  • SM: Wait, really? Cloud-powered coffee wasn't really working for you?

  • KH: I mean, maybe I'm naive, but I thought it was going to be great.

  • I thought we'd just wake up in the morning and we'd say, "Alexa, make us coffee."

  • But that's not how it went down.

  • We had to use this really particular, brand-specific phrase to make it work.

  • It was, "Alexa, ask the Behmor to run quick start."

  • And this was just, like, really hard to remember

  • first thing in the morning,

  • before you have had your caffeine.

  • (Laughter)

  • And apparently, it was hard to say,

  • because the Echo Dot that was right next to our bed

  • just couldn't understand us.

  • So we would basically start every day by screaming this phrase at the Echo Dot.

  • (Laughter)

  • And Trevor hated this.

  • He'd be like, "Please, Kashmir,

  • just let me go to the kitchen and push the button to make the coffee run."

  • And I'd be like, "No, you can't!

  • We have to do it the smart way!"

  • (Laughter)

  • I'm happy to report that our marriage survived the experiment,

  • but just barely.

  • SM: If you decide to make your home smart,

  • hopefully, you'll find it less infuriating than Kashmir did.

  • But regardless, the smart things you buy

  • can and probably are used to target and profile you.

  • Just the number of devices you have can be used to predict

  • how rich or poor you are.

  • Facebook's made this tech, and they've also patented it.

  • KH: All the anxiety you currently feel every time you go online,

  • about being tracked,

  • is about to move into your living room.

  • Or into your bedroom.

  • There's this sex toy called the We-Vibe.

  • You might wonder why a sex toy connects to the internet,

  • but it's for two people who are in a long-distance relationship,

  • so they can share their love from afar.

  • Some hackers took a close look at this toy

  • and saw it was sending a lot of information

  • back to the company that made it --

  • when it was used, how long it was used for,

  • what the vibration settings were, how hot the toy got.

  • It was all going into a database.

  • So I reached out to the company,

  • and I said, "Why are you collecting this really sensitive data?"

  • And they said, "Well, it's great for market research."

  • But they were data-mining their customers' orgasms.

  • And they weren't telling them about it.

  • I mean, even if you're cavalier about privacy,

  • I hope that you would admit that's a step too far.

  • SM: This is why I want to keep my sex toys dumb.