Published by Marco on 25. Apr 2014 13:31:43
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This article originally appeared on "earthli News"
 and has been cross-posted
here.

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The article "Smart TVs, smart fridges, smart washing machines? Disaster waiting
to happen" by Peter Bright

discusses the potential downsides to having a smart home [1]: namely our
inability to create smart software for our mediocre hardware. And once that
software is written and spread throughout dozens of devices in your home, it
will function poorly and quickly be taken over by hackers because "[h]ardware
companies are generally bad at writing software—and bad at updating it."

And, should hackers fail to crack your stove's firmware immediately, for the
year or two where the software works as designed, it will, in all likelihood,
"[...] be funneling sweet, sweet, consumer analytics back to the mothership as
fast as it can", as one commentator on that article put it.

[Manufacturers aren't in business to make you happy]

Making you happy isn't even incidental to their business model now that
monopolies have ensured that there is nowhere you can turn to get better
service. Citing from the article above:

"These devices will inevitably be abandoned by their manufacturers, and the
result will be lots of "smart" functionality—fridges that know what we buy and
when, TVs that know what shows we watch—all connected to the Internet 24/7, all
completely insecure."

Manufacturers almost exclusively design hardware with extremely short lifetimes,
hewing to planned obsolescence. While this a great capitalist strategy, it is
morally repugnant to waste so many resources and so much energy to create
gadgets that will break in order to force consumers to buy new gadgets. Let's
put that awful aspect of our civilization to the side for a moment and focus on
other consequences.

These same manufacturers are going to take this bulletproof strategy to
appliances that have historically had much longer lifetimes. They will also
presumably take their extremely lackluster reputation for updating firmware and
software into this market. The software will be terrible to begin with, it will
be full of security holes and it will receive patches for only about 10% of its
expected lifetime. What could possibly go wrong?

Either the consumer will throw away a perfectly good appliance in order to
upgrade the software or the appliance will be an upstanding citizen of one, if
not several, botnets. Or perhaps other, more malicious services will be
funneling information about you and your household to others, all unbeknownst to
you.

[People are the problem [2]]

These are not scare tactics; this is an inevitability. People have proven
themselves to be wildly incapable of comprehending the devices that they already
have. They have no idea how they work and have only vague ideas of what they're
giving up. It might as well be magic to them. To paraphrase the classic Arthur
C. Clarke citation: "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable
from magic" especially for a sufficiently technically oblivious audience.

Start up a new smart phone and try to create your account on it. Try to do so
without accidentally giving away the keys to your data-kingdom. It is extremely
difficult to do, even if you are technically savvy and vigilant.

Most people just accept any conditions, store everything everywhere, use the
same terribly insecure password for everything and don't bother locking down
privacy options, even if available. Their data is spread around the world in
dozens of places and they've implicitly given away perpetual licenses to
anything they've ever written or shot or created to all of the big providers.

They are sheep ready to be sheared by not only the companies they thought they
could trust, but also by national spy agencies and technically adept hackers
who've created an entire underground economy fueled by what can only be called
deliberate ignorance, shocking gullibility and a surfeit of free time and
disposable income.

[The Internet of Things]

The Internet of Things is a catch-phrase that describes a utopia where
everything is connected to everything else via the Internet and a whole universe
of new possibilities explode out of this singularity that will benefit not only
mankind but the underlying effervescent glory that forms the strata of
existence.

The article "Ars readers react to Smart fridges and the sketchy geography of
“normals”"

follows up the previous article and includes the following comment:

"What I do want, is the ability to check what's in my fridge from my phone while
I'm out in the grocery store to see if there's something I need."

That sounds so intriguing, doesn't it? How great would that be? The one time a
year that you actually can't remember what you put in your refrigerator. On the
other hand, how the hell can your fridge tell what you have? What are the odds
that this technology will even come close to functioning as advertised? Would it
not be more reasonable for your grocery purchases to go to a database and for
you to tell that database when you've actually used or thrown out ingredients?
Even if your fridge was smart, you'd have to wire up your dry-goods pantry in a
similar way and commit to only storing food in areas that are under
surveillance.

The commentator went on to write,

"I do agree that security is a huge, huge issue, and one that needs to be
addressed. But I really don't see how resisting the "Internet of things" is the
longterm solution. The way technology seems to be trending, this is an
inevitability, not a could be."

Resisting the "Internet of things" is not being proposed as the long-term
solution. It is being proposed as a short- to medium-term solution because the
purveyors of this shining vision of nirvana have proven themselves time and
again to be utterly incapable of actually delivering the panaceas that they
promise in a stream of consumption-inducing fraud. Instead, they consistently
end up lining their own pockets while we all fritter away even more precious
waking time ministering to the retarded digital children that they've birthed
from their poisoned loins and foisted upon us.

[Stay out of it, for now]

Hand-waving away the almost-certain security catastrophe as if it can be easily
solved is extremely disingenuous. This is not a world that anyone really wants
to take part in until the security problems are solved. You do not want to be an
early adopter here. And you most especially do not want to do so by buying the
cheapest, most-discounted model available as people are also wont to do. Stay
out of the fight until the later rounds: remove the SIM card, shut off Internet
connectivity where it's not needed and shut down Bluetooth.

The best-case scenario is that early adopters will have their time wasted. Early
rounds of software promise to be a tremendous time-suck for all involved. 
Managing a further herd of purportedly more efficient and optimized devices is a
sucker's game. The more you buy, the less likely you are to be in charge of what
you do with your free time.

As it stands, we already fight with our phones, begging them to connect to
inadequate data networks and balky WLANs. We spend inordinate amounts of time
trying to trick their garbage software into actually performing any of its core
services. Failing that -- which is an inevitability -- we simply live with the
mediocrity, wasting our time every day babysitting gadgets and devices and
software that are supposed to be working for us.

Instead, it is we who end up performing the same monotonous and repetitive tasks
dozens of times every day because the manufacturers have -- usually in a purely
self-interested and quarterly revenue-report driven rush to market -- utterly
failed to test the basic functions of their devices. Subsequent software updates
do little to improve this situation, generally avoiding fixes for glaring issues
in favor of adding social-network integration or some other marketing-driven
hogwash.

Avoiding this almost-certain clusterf*#k does not make you a Luddite. It makes
you a realist, an astute observer of reality. There has never been a time in
history when so much content and games and media has been at the fingertips of
anyone with a certain standard of living. At the same time, though, we seem to
be so bedazzled by this wonder that we ignore the glaring and wholly incongruous
dreadfulness of the tools that we are offered to navigate, watch and curate it. 

If you just use what you're given without complaint, then things will never get
better. Stay on the sidelines and demand better -- and be prepared to wait for
it.

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[1] Or a smart car or anything smart that works perfectly well without being
    smart.


[1] To be clear: the author is not necessarily excluding himself here. It's not
    easy to turn on, tune in and drop out, especially when your career is firmly
    in the tech world. It's also not easy to be absolutely aware of what you're
    giving up in as you make use of the myriad of interlinked services offered
    to you every day.