Careful with that refrigerator, Eugene

News that hackers have used a “smart refrigerator” to send a bunch of virus emails and generally cause mischief shouldn’t come as a surprise. People have been talking about “smart” appliances for years now—“smart” houses, too. Everything is going to be “smart,” apparently. Personally, I can’t wait until we get “smart” cars—you know, the ones that don’t need drivers. (As opposed to Smart cars.) I remember this as a 1950s advertising campaign that never quite got off the ground—like jetpacks. Which reminds me, where the hell is my jetpack? Anyway, I bet the amount of interesting damage you can do with “smart” cars will be a lot more fun than what you can do with “smart” refrigerators.

I’m of two minds here. On the one hand, smart homes save energy, all other things being equal. So there are sound environmental reasons for liking the concept. On the other hand, Google just bought Nest Labs, a “smart” thermostat manufacturer—for $3.2 billion. This will allow Google, which does no evil, IIRC, to know when you’re home and when you’re not home, among other things. How this fits into Google’s spate of robotics acquisitions is a bit unclear—although smart robots could certainly dovetail with smart appliances in some potentially interesting ways, I suppose. “Smart” vacuum cleaners may be the next big thing. But if things keep going they way there are, Google (and the rest of the crazy libertarians of silicon valley) are going to be in a position to know a whole lot about you. And the more “smart” the built environment gets, the more vulnerable to refrigerator hackers we get as well.

I do enjoy, just a bit, the irony of Americans freaking about about potential NSA surveillance (which has been going on for decades, BTW), with their enthusiasm for cheerfully sharing their personal information with the corporate world, including Google, not to mention every credit card company on the face of the planet. The fact that this information gets routinely hacked appears to be simply one of costs people seem willing to pay. But with “smart” homes and “smart” buildings and “smart” cars, we’re upping the ante. I go into newer buildings for business meetings where the elevators have no buttons—you key in the floor (or someone does it for you) outside the elevator, and the elevator takes you there—once you’re in the elevator, you have absolutely no control over what happens. I find this just a bit spooky, frankly. Sorry, but I don’t want my elevator, or my car, or my refrigerator, or the airplane I’m flying in, hackable. But maybe that’s just a sign of my age, and I’m just over-reacting. What the worst that can happen, anyway?

6 replies »

  1. Suspect’s smart phones have been used against them for years and with a few hiccups the courts have said searching them is quite legal. Now it’s the fridge’s turn to rat fink us out. “Oh so you were home the night in question? Well, the ice box says different…”

    Thanks for the thoughts Wufnik, I’ll come back and watch the Mangle Movie later.

  2. Great. Just what I want – my fridge telling bottled water companies that I reuse their bottles by refilling them from my own filtering system. So they can design them to give me God knows what if I use them more than twice or something.

    Time to learn glass blowing, I guess….

  3. What could be smart about a fridge? It lets my milk get warmer if I’m not home? I hope it doesn’t connect to the internet cause mine is too slow as it is. I don’t need a stinkin’ refrigerator sucking bandwidth. We’d never get through a show on Netflix.

  4. I assume smart fridges will unfortunately have talking capabilities… “I see you bought more beer. Perhaps you should have a vegetable or some fruit instead.”

    What about emails to your doctor, the Obamacare Deathpanels, and wellness professionals – He drinks beers per week and fills a glass with 6 ice cubes twice on Friday. Instead of Jehovah’s Witnesses, you will have teetotallers targeting your house.

  5. Of course, in addition to your doctor, your beer tally will be sent to your local beer club, so that it knows when to bring a fresh load. Along with a fresh crate of chips, which will be sent automatically because of the famous beer/chip consumption algorithm–although this will change in the autumn during football season. Somehow, smart fridges will know this.