Privacy concerns with this year's hottest tech gadgets

Emma McGowan 19 Dec 2022

Every new tech toy comes the potential for privacy and security concerns.

The holiday season is upon us, and many of us are looking forward to soon unwrapping the latest and greatest tech gadgets. From smartphones and smart speakers to fitness trackers and home security cameras, there are plenty of exciting new toys to choose from. 

But with every new tech toy comes the potential for privacy and security concerns. Let’s take a look at some of this year's hottest tech gadgets and the potential privacy risks that come with each.

Amazon Echo

Amazon is perhaps the most famous data-driven, data-consuming, data-tracking company out there. They use their various services and devices – which range from their shopping service to streaming TV to home assistants to cloud computing – to gather as much information as humanly possible on their users. And if you’re using Amazon Echo, you can rest assured (or, perhaps, uneasy) that they’re adding data collected there to your dossier.

While Echo is only supposed to start recording when Alexa is triggered (by whatever “wake word” you choose; the default is “Alexa”), there have been concerns about it mistaking other words for the wake worm and recording when people don’t want it too. But beyond that potential issue, the question Echo users should really be asking themselves is: How comfortable am I with Amazon having even more data on me? What am I willing to trade? That’s something each person can only answer for themselves.

August Smart Lock Pro

Keys are a pain. You forget them. You lose them. They’re annoying to carry around. They cost a lot if you lock yourself out. And that’s where the appeal of the August Smart Lock Pro – which not only lets you lock and unlock your door from your phone, but offers great features like automatic locking 30 minutes after you’ve left the house – comes in.

While there are obvious potential downsides to a smart lock (a ransomware attack that holds every lock hostage comes immediately to mind), so far August hasn’t had any major security issues. They also are clear about not selling your data and only using it for personalized ads if you opt-in.

Arlo Pro 4

The Arlo Pro 4 is one of the most popular smart home security devices on the market right now. And, we’re happy to say, it’s doing a pretty good job (so far) when it comes to privacy and security.

It is, however, also a security system, which means it records everything in its view. Because it’s a smart device, that means everything recorded is stored in the cloud, which also means it’s potentially hackable. It’s important to note, though, that so far that hasn’t been an issue for the company. Does it mean it will never be an issue? Of course not! But, for now, Arlo is a good choice for people who care about privacy and security, but still want the benefits of a smart home security system.

Eufy Video Doorbell 2K

If you want to know who’s at the door, but really don’t feel like getting up, the Eufy Video Doorbell 2K might be for you, allowing you to see who’s there from the convenience of your phone. But if you’re worried about privacy, you might want to reconsider this popular smart gadget.

While Eufy hasn’t had any breaches or hacks (yet), they do collect info on their customers – including IP addresses, location, and search queries – and they do sell that information to third parties. They’ll delete that info on request, but we prefer services that have automatic opt-in privacy settings, not ones where customers have to actively opt out.

Google Nest Hub Max

The Google Nest Hub Max is an all-in-one device to control all of your Google-related devices. You can use it to watch TV, make video calls, ask questions, check your video doorbell, change the temperature in your house, etc. etc. etc. Like Amazon Echo, it’s only supposed to start listening/recording when you use its trigger word, which is usually “okay, Google.” But, also like the Echo, it does have a tendency to turn on when users aren’t expecting it to. (Feature or a bug? Hard to say.)

Google is also a little tricky in how they use the information gathered. As Mozilla’s excellent Privacy Not Included guide points out, Google promises not to use your actual voice recordings to gather info to sell you ads. However, they will use transcripts of those voice recordings, which seems like a semantic difference rather than a real one to us. 

Nest Learning Thermostat

The Google Nest Learning Thermostat makes it easy to adjust the temperature of your home, right from your phone. It can also cut down your electric bills, with features like automatically turning off when you’ve left the house or lowering your thermostat when you’re sleeping. But for people worried about privacy, all of the concerns listed for the Hub, above, apply here – with the added bonus of the fact that the thermostat knows when you’re home or not home. So, as usual, the question is: What are you willing to trade for the convenience?

While the latest tech gadgets can be exciting and offer a wide range of benefits, it's important to consider the potential privacy and security risks that come with them. From tracking and data collection to hacking and surveillance, there are many potential dangers to be aware of. As consumers, it's our responsibility to educate ourselves and make informed decisions about the technology we use. By being aware of the potential risks and taking steps to protect our personal information, we can enjoy our new tech toys without compromising our privacy.

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