To date, there haven't been any major privacy or security incursions on smart home appliances. But privacy experts warn that with so many microphones and cameras coming into people's homes, it's an area that warrants some caution.
Many people, though, don't realize how many potential monitoring devices are in their houses already. Here's a look at common—or soon to be common—household items that could potentially give outsiders more insight into your day-to-day life than you realize. Each has safeguards in place to protect your privacy, but it never hurts to know what's watching—and listening.
—By Chris Morris, special to CNBC.com
Posted 6 March 2015
When Xbox One launched, it came with an updated version of Kinect, a 3-D camera that enables voice and motion interaction. The two have been unbundled at this point, but Kinect is still a big part of Microsoft's console strategy. Similarly, the PS4 camera, which sells for around $50 and also listens to voice commands, has been a hot seller.
Samsung's not the only company that has integrated camera and microphone. LG's high-end LED sets are Skype-ready, with microphones and integrated cameras as well. And sets from Panasonic, Sony, Vizio and others offer similar functionality.
This digital personal assistant from the retail giant takes the convenience of Siri and Google Now and brings them into the home environment. It can answer questions or play music when it's roused from its digital slumber with the code word "Alexa." At $199, critics have called the Amazon Echo one of the better voice-controlled devices on the market, noting it does a better job at understanding what users are saying than its smartphone cousins.
Barbie has traditionally been a pretty low-tech toy, but Mattel has announced a Wi-Fi-connected doll called Hello Barbie that listens to your child and will respond, in kind. It also records the words and sends the parent an email of highlights of the conversation. The conversations may also be kept on the servers of developer ToyTalk to better assist with improving speech recognition with children.
The kitchen is getting a lot smarter. Whirlpool, Dacor and LG have all unveiled devices that have either cameras or microphones (sometimes both). LG's making the biggest push, with a built-in camera that will text you a live picture of your refrigerator's contents (which could be handy the next time you make an impromptu stop at the grocery store). It's part of a wider push toward smart appliances from the company, which also offers a service called HomeChat, which lets you speak to your electronics in plain English.
Internet-enabled security cameras, like Dropcam and Simplicam, each just under $200, store their archival footage on the cloud, ensuring that should someone break into your home, the video that shows the thief will never be taken along with your valuables. But that also means that footage of your day-to-day moments and habits are vulnerable should a hacker gain access to the footage by stealing your username and password. It could even let them monitor your home in live time.
If you've got a laptop these days, you've probably got a Webcam built into the system. When you're not using it to video chat or Skype, it's supposed to be turned off, but hackers can easily turn it on to watch you as you go about your day, should they gain access to your system. That's just one of the many reasons to ensure you download and install the latest system and software updates.