Upgrade your House’s IQ


Arvind Pillai, Editor

Have you ever been incredibly comfy under the covers of your bed, ready to fall asleep, when you realize that you have to get up and turn the lights off? If this or other minor home inconveniences irritate you, you could consider making your home “smart”. In 2019, thanks to the invention of “smart” speakers like Google Home and Amazon Alexa, as well as compatible “smart” gadgets and services, you can easily automate day to day tasks by simply using voice commands or your phone. However, some power comes with some responsibility: there are some obvious and not-so obvious cons to revolutionizing your home.  

As I have already mentioned, a smart home can capitalize on compatible services that can be controlled simply by using your voice. If you have Spotify Premium, for instance, you can ask your smart speaker to play a favorite song or album (from my experience, if you don’t have a paid streaming service, the speaker will likely play an album or song “similar” to your request: not worth your time). You can also ask your smart speaker to tell you the time, set an alarm, check the weather, and if you own a Google Home, can even ask it to tell you a fun fact. If you have bought a smart light system, you can also ask your speaker to dim or even turn off the lights, addressing the problem aforementioned. Do note however that smart home systems are costly – it costs around $150 dollars to buy a smart speaker, $100 to buy automated lights, and can cost up to $1000 to buy

Another great plus you can get from switching to a smart home is that it gives you material security. You can install a Nest Home Security system – typically, a doorbell or keypad at the front door and cameras mounted in several areas – that can be set up to an app on your smart phone in several easy steps. These security systems can typically inform you of movement outside your front door as well as give you real time footage from your phone – far more convenient than previous iterations of security cameras that would have a longer set up and a greater technical knowledge to operate. My family has installed a Nest Home Security system, and my dad is easily able to check what’s happening outside and can also be notified of others dangers through a forum accessible only to people using the app. Although I have not connected my Nest products, I could use Google Assistant to lock the front door or show video from the security camera onto my phone.

Although greater intruder security is a big benefit for consumers, people still have concerns over privacy from the Smart Assistants themselves. I wrote an article about Amazon Alexa laughing without being called during conversations happening near the device last year: although unsettling, the issue didn’t pose much of a threat and was quickly resolved by Amazon. More recently, however, Amazon Echo sent out a recording of a couple’s conversation to one of the husband’s employees after Echo mistakenly heard voice commands asking it to do so. Unlike the previous issue, where the ‘victims’ simply reacted through a confused tweet, the couple angrily unplugged the smart assistant and have requested a full refund from Amazon. It has been several months since the cases, but both of them show us how owning a device that listens to your every word isn’t necessarily the most secure device to have in your home. Google Home also records every conversation you have with it, though it is unknown what Google is really doing with this data.

Yes, one could argue that you could operate a smart home without a smart speaker, but then you lose the power to control your whole home without moving from your seat or work. My personal experiences with Google Assistant has been similar, though less drastic: occasionally, Google Home will activate when I am talking on the phone with someone in my room.

Really, it’s up to you to decide whether you are willing to possibly sacrifice privacy for greater functionality.