At the same time, things that were not Internet-enabled in the past—like thermometers, watches, fitness wearables and even dolls—are now connected online, known as the Internet of Things. While smart homes help link people with others on the outside through these devices, this increased connectivity leaves them more vulnerable to cyberattacks.
"I would say there's definitely a reason to at least be concerned," said Jeremy Gillula, staff technologist at Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). "It's not a situation of 'everything is listening to me,' but you might want to think twice about the policies of a product before you buy. ... If it is a networked [device] or voice activated, it might make sense to check."
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Samsung quickly denied it was eavesdropping on consumers and blamed the confusion on poor wording. It has since updated the policy to note that the captures were made when you specifically activated the vocal search feature—and were being used only to improve voice recognition.
The tempest in a teapot surrounding that miscommunication, though, underscored the level of unease that exists around smart appliances and their monitoring capabilities. That's a hurdle manufacturers of those products will need to clear to speed adoption.
"I think we're going to see lots of devices like this that are trying to service people better and become intimate with our households," said Jules Polonetsky, executive director Future of Privacy Foundation. He added, "[Companies that make them are] going to have to learn to become trusted and create things we can rely on to help us and not incriminate us."