Homework for the “Smart” Home

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by Carl Settlemyer | Attorney, Division of Advertising Practices, FTC

Smart technology makes it possible to connect devices — from pet feeders to home surveillance systems — to the Internet and control them from nearly anywhere. The technology is evolving rapidly, promising even greater convenience, security, and comfort in the future.

revolv-smart-home-hub.0.0But the pace at which the technology is changing also poses possible pitfalls. For example, consumers who paid $299 for a “Smart Home Hub” that Revolv began selling in 2013 to operate locks, sound systems, and other devices learned in February that Nest Labs, which bought Revolv, was stopping its support for the device, making it useless.

Nest offered full refunds to Hub owners — a fact that contributed to the FTC’s decision to close its investigation of Nest’s action — but the incident is a reminder to ask some questions when you shop for smart devices. Learn how a device works and what support the manufacturer will provide. Pay close attention to the product’s security features because an online security breach involving one device could expose your entire home network.

Here are more tips to help you smarten your home:

  • Find out if the product will work with connected devices you already have, and with other companies’ devices.
  • Ask how you’ll get security and other product updates.
  • Take time during your initial set-up to familiarize yourself with any dashboards and widgets that you’ll use to control the device remotely.
  • Don’t just accept out-of-the-box default settings. Turn on secure features and re-evaluate only after you’re familiar with the device.
  • Consider if you’ll be able to keep using the device if the manufacturer stops providing updates and other support.

Looking for more tips on keeping your devices secure? Sign up for email updates from the FTC. Choose “Consumer Updates: Privacy, Identity & Online Security.”