smart homes – practical uses and security fears.

A large part of my passion for studying media and communications at university stems from my interest in the technologies being developed for and in the future.  Researching up and coming technologies and how they can be used has always intrigued me, and it is something I would like to remain involved in as I continue my degree.  In BCM325, for example, I am working with virtual reality and helping to develop a prototype of a virtual art gallery for the Arts, English and Media faculty of UOW.  So continuing in this vein of thought for my BCM312 project seemed to me to be a logical progression, and upon seeing the topic of ‘the robot’, was the first thing I thought of to pursue.

The topic of ‘the robot’ is intentionally vague, and intrigued me to take the concept and explore where it could be taken.  What do we define as a robot?  Was it physically the ‘robots’ that come to mind upon first discussion, the Tin Man-esque creations?  Or in our increasingly connected world, could it extend to everyday items, our clothing, our homes?  If everything in our lives has the potential to be a medium for communication, then it is no stretch to apply the concept of ‘the robot’ to the homes we live in.

One of the most relevant and upcoming examples of this is the growing prevalence of smart homes.  Smart homes entail the ability for our everyday objects to connect to an online network, and be controlled automatically and remotely.  The abilities of smart homes have various potentials which can be broken down into categories such as (but not limited to) security, assisted living, comfort and convenience, and energy efficiency (Balta-Ozkan et. al., 2013).  For example, the research paper “Social barriers to the adoption of smart homes” identifies the convenience of smart homes for the elderly, as their usage allows for greater independence by monitoring the occupant’s activities and alerting a family member or carer in the event of illness or accidents.  The abilities of smart homes can also assist in security by monitoring the household and alerting the owner to unusual activity or movements within the house, and can lock and unlock the house remotely (Balta-Oskan et. al., 2013).  Through an application, you can check whether your iron or hair straighteners have been left on by accident, and your fridge can recognise when you are out of milk and add it to your weekly food delivery.

All this considered, it provokes one (such as myself) to ask ‘why haven’t smart homes become more common?’.  The answer seems to be obvious – it is easy to recognise that the concept of smart homes comes with many flaws and fears, many of which are rooted in various intellectual and moral issues.  For example, the technology used in smart homes and its rapid advancement requires a relatively high level of digital literacy.  As quoted by Balta-Ozkan et. al., “As technology permeates into the home, who is responsible for installing, upgrading and maintaining the smart home′s software and hardware? Can such expert knowledge be demanded of the smart-home user?”.

Digital literacy aside, the main issue concerning smart homes and, in turn, hindering their widespread prevalence is security.  The nature of the ‘smart home’ means that it must gather information about the occupants, such as their movements within the household, their energy usage and bills etc., in order to operate efficiently (Risteska Stojkoska et. al., 2017).  It must also store this information within a ‘cloud’, as is common for most Internet of Things (IoT) networks.  Whilst this brings a level of convenience, as it allows occupants to have remote access to their homes, the risks of storing such sensitive information online means that there are security concerns regarding being hacked (Risteska Stojkoska et. al., 2017).  The moral implications of a hacker receiving such information and using it maliciously are severe, and it is what intrigues me most about the development of smart homes.

Examining the concept of the smart home, and breaking down the perceived benefits and fears that accompany it, seems to me to be a useful interpretation of the robot and the research question.  In particular, the fear of a smart home being ‘hacked’ and the threats accompanying this offer the most opportunity for investigation.  Therefore I offer the research question below:

What are the security fears associated with smart homes, and can they be overcome?


References

Balta-Ozkan, N., Davidson, R., Bicket, M. and Whitmarsh, L. (2013). Social barriers to the adoption of smart homes. Energy Policy, 63, pp.363-374.

Risteska Stojkoska, B. and Trivodaliev, K. (2017). A review of Internet of Things for smart home: Challenges and solutions. Journal of Cleaner Production, 140, pp.1454-1464.

Wilson, C., Hargreaves, T. and Hauxwell-Baldwin, R. (2017). Benefits and risks of smart home technologies. Energy Policy, 103, pp.72-83.


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