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The growing number of smart-home devices in houses has begged the question of security. These devices can be particularly vulnerable to hackers who may want to break in to home owners' private networks.

In response, the Online Trust Alliance recently created a "smart-home checklist," which provides consumers with information to increase the security and privacy of their home. For example, homes that use smart apps and devices to monitor security, temperature, and lighting are collecting personal information about the home owner.

"Although we enjoy the benefits of a connected lifestyle, we must not lose sight of the risks a smart home may pose to our privacy and physical safety," says Craig Spiezle, president and executive director of the Online Trust Alliance. "As evidenced by some privacy practices and recent vulnerabilities with smart cars, TVs, and baby monitors, consumers need to be aware of and manage smart devices in their homes. Following these recommendations will help consumers better protect their privacy and identity, and prevent their personal data from falling into the hands of cyber criminals and being sold to the highest bidder."

The checklist includes an overview of things to do prior to closing; smart home devices and applications; modems, gateways, and hubs; security alarms, keyless entry, gate systems; and home thermostats, HVAC systems, smart TVs, lighting, and other devices.


The buzz is escalating about the “Internet of Things.” The catchphrase refers to the next wave of technology but also to a mindset, one that’s already evident in the moment a four-year-old tries to operate a paperbound book by tapping on an illustration.

The concept behind the Internet of Things, or “IoT” (also known as the “Cloud of Things” or “real world web”), is that we’ll rely on actual computers less and less over the next decade as technological interfaces are woven directly into products.

“The next generation is not going to understand computers as separate things,” says technology consultant and author Christina Kerley. “When a lightbulb burns out in their house, they’re going to wonder why it didn’t give them a heads-up.”

Tech watchers say 2015 is the year IoT will start to go mainstream. Indeed, many products already whir constantly in the background of our lives, gathering information on us and the environment. Increasingly, devices will make connections with each other, transferring data and coming to conclusions about how they should operate based on that data. “We are looking at re-instrumenting the physical world, [and] 2015 through 2020 are going to be transformative,” Kerley says.

IoT tools—at a rudimentary stage today—have yet to gain a significant foothold in real estate, but the potential for game-changing progress, along with disruption, is huge. Think of IoT in 2015 as analogous to the Internet in 1995. Over time, technology advances have taught us that we could part with certain aspects of our privacy and autonomy. But concerns are mounting that the coming decade may see security breaches and leaks of private information on a scale that was never before possible.

How IoT Works

Smart home devices that record and transmit data are already creating a buzz in the marketplace. Perhaps the most familiar such product is the Nest thermostat (made by a company recently purchased by Google), which can be controlled from a smartphone but over time learns a household’s schedule. Nest settings can be operated by individual users (who can set baselines for water or electricity use) and integrated with data from institutional hubs like the National Weather Service or a city’s electrical grid. Such devices can serve as a helpful go-between for consumers and municipal smart grids, moderating energy use at peak times to minimize service disruptions. For example, Nest marries its understanding of a household’s habits with data about energy use to make decisions about the best time to run a load of laundry.

Beacon technology is another facet of the IoT world. Beacons are small devices, usually powered by Bluetooth, that can be mounted virtually anywhere. They transmit information to nearby receptors (often a mobile device that is set up to receive Bluetooth data). Beacons can be used to track the movements of people in a home—perhaps to automatically turn lights to a specific preset when a particular person enters the room or to transmit information about the activities of an older adult to a caregiver outside the home.

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