The Internet of Things is a powerful concept. Connect everything to everything, right? Have all of our devices talk to each other and automate aspects of our lives. Masterful, passive efficiency.
But when is it too much? And at what point does convenience come at the expense of security?
LG Electronics offered a handy example at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas recently. The company unveiled “a new kind of refrigerator.” Called Smart InstaView, the fridge represents what’s wrong with IoT: unnecessary connectivity accompanied by an unspoken security threat.
The fridge boasts a 29-inch touchscreen, which already seems a little extreme for an appliance built simply to keep food cold. Moreover, though, the screen “turns transparent” by utilizing a wide-angle camera inside, which “allows users to look inside the refrigerator without opening the door.”
So instead of enduring the grueling task of opening a fridge door to observe its contents—oh, the horror!—you can tap a screen twice to access a camera view of the interior. Truly disruptive technology.
That this is a “feature” is absurd. But factor in how much it will add to the cost of the appliance, and you realize what suckers LG must take us for.
And this doesn’t even address the IoT component, which is not just unnecessary, but potentially dangerous. The webOS-powered screen connects to wifi, you see, with virtually no security enabled. And the software is handled by LG, which means security patches in future updates—including in the event of a cyberattack—are far from guaranteed.
LG says it has created a “powerful food management system” guided by Alexa, Amazon’s voice-controlled digital assistant. But this solution is hardly better than buying a “dumb” fridge and then buying an Amazon Echo. You would be able to access the same features, spend significantly less on your fridge, and in the event of a cyber threat, know that Amazon will reliably patch its software.
As Andrew Cunningham pointed out in Ars Technica, “The proliferation of all these difficult-to-secure endpoints makes large-scale botnets easier to build.” On the topic of privacy, he added that “even without being compromised, companies can use their smart devices to serve up ads or give audio or video recordings to law enforcement.”
It’s a slippery slope: if every appliance and gizmo connects to the internet, consumers simply have that many more vulnerabilities in their home—that many more opportunities for a cyber attack to threaten their personal life. And for what? To be able to see inside our fridge without opening the door?
You still have to open the door to grab the food, man. Remember that.