When smart homes turn on owners

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Smart homes are supposed to be the epitome of convenience — letting users turn lights on and off, control room temperature, open their doors and even adjust cooking times from your phone.

But sometimes it can feel like your home has turned on you.

Take Brandon Jackson, a Microsoft engineer who was cut off from his Amazon smart home devices for a week after a delivery driver reported him to the company for allegedly making a racist comment via his Eufy doorbell.

The problem: No one was at Jackson’s home at the time to have made the remark.

“Instead, the Eufy doorbell had issued an automated response: ‘Excuse me, can I help you?’” Jackson said in a Medium post last month.

“The driver, who was walking away and wearing headphones, must have misinterpreted the message. Nevertheless, by the following day, my Amazon account was locked, and all my Echo devices were logged out.”

Such is fate when living with the machines, it seems.

Ring devices
The FTC told Ring to pay $5.8 million in customer refunds after the FTC charged that “Ring employees illegally surveilled customers, failed to stop hackers from taking control of users’ cameras.”
Getty Images

“There is a lack of clarity with a lot of these smart-home products,” Thorin Klosowski, privacy and security activist for Electronic Frontier Foundation, told The Post. “That makes it difficult to keep track of everything. We have to ask ourselves whether all of this makes our lives easier or not.”

Especially when other people intervene. Ferial Nijem, a fashion model, endured what she called at-home “tech abuse” at the hands of an ex-partner who, like her, had access to her abode’s smart technology.

“He was able to monitor me, using the security surveillance cameras, even remotely,” Nijem told the Sun. “In the middle of the night, I’m awoken by blaring music over the audio system. You have lights flickering on and off. TVs going on and off. It’s almost as if the house is haunted.”

Chris Basinger
Chris Basinger was shocked when his house told him it was time to go to sleep.

Clint Basinger, who reviews vintage video games, had a haunted smart house scare of his own after moving into a new home.

On the first night, the clock struck 11:30, a canned voice said “Good night” and every lock suddenly shut on its own.

“It was all locked up,” he told CNN. “The house was armed. It was bedtime.”

Man posing alongside an Amazon Echo Plus
An Amazon Echo Plus was used by kids in Michigan used to order more than $400 worth of toys.

In response, Basinger recalled, “I’m like, you can’t tell me to go to bed. You’re my house. But … there were motion sensors in the living room. Every time I went to move in the living room, the motion sensors would go off and there were lights and alarms. So I just went to bed.”

Eventually, he got a PIN number and fixed the system, but the sting remains: “I’m still technically a guest in my own home because of how [it] was set up [previously].”

It’s not only the smart home newbies who get frustrated by their self-thinking domiciles. Marlon Buchanan, author of “The Smart Home Manual,” loves his smart home but still endures inconveniences that don’t happen in dumb homes.

Marlon Buchanan
Marlon Buchanan, author of “The Smart Home Manual,” loves his smart home, but he acknowledges that complications sometimes arise.

There’ve been lights that went on for no reason — “It was a little creepy,” Buchanan told The Post — and some that went on for wrong reasons.

“My kids use voice control to turn on their bedroom lights each morning,” said Buchanan. “Sometimes they mumble and Google misunderstands them. Then every light in the house goes on and I get woken up.”

But that’s only losing sleep — not money.

A Michigan woman was shocked when her kids took advantage of their Amazon Echo Plus, better known as Alexa, and ordered more than $400 worth of toys. The mom scolded them in a Facebook post and muttered, “These f–king kids, they ordered their own Christmas.”

Home being spied on through a Ring camera system
According to ABC News, a family in Florida endured obnoxious comments lobbed at them by hackers through their Ring camera system.

Buchanan has heard about garage doors set to open when the resident gets close to home — but fly open when the person is miles away, leaving the house vulnerable to thieves.

And, as with most any technology, there’s always the danger of hacking.

In footage shown by ABC News in 2019, a high-tech intruder asked an African American family in Florida: “Did your child come out black or like kind of light skinned?”

In Texas, it was more mercenary. The news report showed a voice demanding that the woman “pay a 50 bitcoin ransom or else you will get terminated yourself. Right now.” 

Ferial Nijem attending a party with the actor Bruno Eyron
Ferial Nijem attending a party with the actor Bruno Eyron. She endured “tech abuse” at the hands of an ex.
Getty Images

According to an FTC charge issued in May, “Ring employees illegally surveilled customers, failed to stop hackers from taking control of users’ cameras.”

The FTC report alleged, “Bad actors not only viewed some customers’ videos but also used Ring cameras’ two-way functionality to harass, threaten, and insult consumers … For example, hackers taunted several children with racist slurs, sexually propositioned individuals and threatened a family with physical harm if they didn’t pay a ransom.”

Ring was told to pay $5.8 million in customer refunds. 

In response, a Ring spokesperson told The Post, “Our focus has been and remains on delivering products and features our customers love … While we disagree with the FTC’s allegations and deny violating the law, this settlement resolves this matter so we can focus on innovating on behalf of our customers.”

A Ring security camera and numeric keypad on a door
An AirBnB owner had to install a keypad lock after his WiFi version failed, locking him and his tenants out of the house.
Getty Images

And then there’s the AirBnB owner in Wyoming who installed smart locks to make his life easier — only to get locked out.

“Initially, it was secure and helpful; when somebody booked a room through Airbnb, it set a new digital code and I didn’t have to worry about people having keys, which can be copied or lost,” the Airbnb owner, who asked to remain anonymous for professional reasons, told The Post. “These locks operated with WiFi and the company updated the firmware. Usually it was seamless. Then, one morning, the locks stopped working and I couldn’t get the update to make it work.”

So he went back to the old-fashioned way of getting inside.

“It can work with a key, but that defeats the purpose,” he said. “Then I had to remove the smart lock, leaving holes in the door, and mail it to the company.”

Now he uses a numerical keypad, manually changed before each guest check-in. Is it better?

“No. But it is necessary. It stopped me from being subject to an engineer doing something stupid and ruining my weekend.”

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