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How to Kit Out Your Smart Home Without Big Data and Privacy Snooping

“The surveillance capitalists are driving a dishonest bargain with the clientele, while the Internet per se is dominated by computer-crime mafia and intelligence services now; it’s genuinely hazardous.”

—Bruce Sterling

Over the past decade, the space between us humans and our gadgets has become almost imperceptible. Our phones, computers, and even our doorbells act as an extension to our eyes and ears. An entirely new class of consumer device, the voice assistant, has become ubiquitous. Our cars are even able to drive themselves for us. We now live in the future.

There’s a part of this future that we didn’t daydream about, though: that our technology would transmit all the data it observes to corporate servers, which log our daily locations, habits, and interests. With this, the companies are now targeting us for individualized marketing. We’ve sold off our privacy and we don’t even know it. 

“Surveillance Capitalism describes the current economic model of technology companies that make revenue by surveilling our online lives, gathering data that is processed and transformed to result in targeted advertising packages,” write Andrea Krajewski and Max Krüger in the opening to The State of Responsible IoT 2019, published as part of the annual ThingsCon gathering (thingscon.org). “The better the data, the more likely it is that we do what is expected of us: buy what we are shown. Surveillance Capitalism is therefore not only an economic model, it is a form of control over our behavior.” 

This stockpiling of data also becomes a target for more (and worse) privacy breaches in the future. “Best case, there will be a large data leak that exposes people’s most personal information about their homes, habits, and associations,” says Gennie Gebhart, associate director of research for the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). “In the worst case, bad actors from law enforcement to domestic abusers will use these home surveillance systems against people in even more insidious ways than we’re seeing now.” To combat this, the EFF has created Surveillance Self-Defense (ssd.eff.org), a resource for protecting individuals’ online privacy and security.

We’ve become more aware of the tradeoffs these devices incur, yet many do want the conveniences they offer. There are, however, no commercial options that really protect you. You can’t pay to keep free of the surveillance. You’ve got to DIY it. 

Originally published in Make: Vol. 72, our “Private By Design” issue is all about electronic device security. Subscribe to Make: to be sure to never miss an issue.

Here are the articles from the section:


Set Up Your Own Private Smart Home

Keep your IoT gadgets private and your data safe, with this DIY Mozilla WebThings Gateway on a Raspberry Pi.


Private By Design: Free and Private Voice Assistants

Command your own voice assistant without Big Tech eavesdroppers and data snoops, using free and private tools.


Alias Privacy “Parasite” 2.0 Adds a Layer of Security to Your Home Assistant

Plop it on Alexa or Google assistants to jam their eavesdropping and confuse their data, but still command all their functions.


Mycroft: The Open Source Private Voice Assistant On Raspberry Pi

Open source and private, this voice assistant works great on the Raspberry Pi.


Face Jam: Evade Facial Recognition

Keep clear from recognition algorithms with these methods.

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Mike Senese is the Executive Editor of Make: magazine. He is also a TV host, starring in various engineering and science shows for Discovery Channel, including Punkin Chunkin, How Stuff Works, and Catch It Keep It.

An avid maker, Mike spends his spare time tinkering with electronics, doing amateur woodworking, and attempting to cook the perfect pizza.

View more articles by Mike Senese