from the not-so-smart-huh dept
The “smart” internet of things era was supposed to usher forth a new era of convenience. Instead, it often manages to advertise how dumber technology can be the smarter option, and you’re not being particularly innovative if your product actually makes life harder. From “smart” door locks that are easily hackable to hackable “smart” TVs that are so smart they spy on you, there are near daily examples showing how connecting old tech to the internet and calling it innovation — may not be innovative.
And if you still choose to wander down the smart home rabbit hole, it’s very important to build flexible, interoperable home networks that don’t rely too heavily on a singular point of failure or control.
Take this poor sod’s experience as the latest example.
Microsoft engineer Brandon Jackson recently found himself locked completely out of the voice controls for his Amazon-controlled smart home automation system. In a blog post, he details how his loss of control made it impossible to use voice controls to manage any of countless home security and automation devices:
I have a smart home, and my primary means of interfacing with all the devices and automations is through Amazon Echo devices via Alexa. This incident left me with a house full of unresponsive devices, a silent Alexa, and a lot of questions.
Now he’s quick to note he still had control over most of the individual devices, but only because he’d implemented a lot of third party systems and hosting options to ensure reliability and interoperability. So it’s not like he froze to death in his underpants hiding in the garage in terror from the smart vac, like some sort of Black Mirror episode.
Why was he locked out? Jackson notes that somehow an Amazon delivery driver misinterpreted an innocuous remark (“Excuse me, can I help you?”) as a racist slur of some kind. That quickly escalated with Amazon, and the company took the extreme step of locking him out of all Alexa home voice controls entirely before Jackson was even allowed to explain himself.
Given the current political and cultural moment where people are being murdered on doorstops and driveways by imbeciles, Amazon’s sensitivity here is somewhat understandable. Jackson ultimately regained control after things were cleared up, but it unsurprisingly led him to question his reliance on a single monolithic company when it comes to home automation and control:
Let me be clear: I fully support Amazon taking measures to ensure the safety of their drivers. However, I question why my entire smart home system had to be rendered unusable during their internal investigation (Clarification, I wrote this from the perspective of the average user. My entire system was fine but only due to me self hosting many services and that should not have to be the norm/expected of everyone). It seems more sensible to impose a temporary delivery restriction or purchasing ban on my account. Submitting video evidence from multiple angles right after my initial call with the executive appeared to have little impact on their decision to disable my account.
Of course, there’s numerous other reasons to not have your home automation and security systems too heavily reliant on monitoring by Amazon, including the company’s lazy and all too casual data and information sharing habits with law enforcement.
The Rupert Murdoch news machine was quickly excited by a story with racial elements (but not really) that vilified big tech, but the broader issue remains more about the cautionary tale of putting your home systems under any kind of monolithic, centralized control. It’s precisely why technologies like Matter are trying to expand interoperability and end reliance on any single point of failure (with mixed results so far).
For its part, Amazon acknowledged the error and promised to do better:
“We work hard to provide customers with a great experience while also ensuring drivers who deliver Amazon packages feel safe,” Spokesperson Simone Griffin said in a statement. “In this case, we learned through our investigation that the customer did not act inappropriately, and we’re working directly with the customer to resolve their concerns while also looking at ways to prevent a similar situation from happening again,” she added.
Again though, the best way to avoid monolithic giants like Amazon having too much control over your home is to… simply not give monolithic giants like Amazon too much control over your home. Amazon’s interest in controlling and monetizing every last aspect of your daily behavior simply are never going to consistently be in line with the goal of individual autonomy.