A Silicon Valley tech start-up known for its Internet-connected home thermostats is branching out into the Internet-controlled smoke-detector business, too.
If you’re a consumer who enjoys connecting as much of your technology as possible to your smartphone, this is great news because “Yay, a new frontier in convenience for home safety devices!” And if you’re a hacker with mischievous or outright malicious intent, this is great news because “Yay, a new frontier of wifi-connected home safety devices I can hack!”
In 2011, Nest released its successful Nest Thermostat, which has been credited with increasing energy efficiency by adjusting itself to its owners’ specific energy needs.
The forthcoming smoke alarm, called Nest Protect, is intended to solve a more serious problem with conventional smoke alarms, according to Nest co-founder Matt Rogers: due to smoke alarms’ tendency to do things like go off while people are cooking, or wake people up with annoying high-pitched chirp noises after the batteries run low in the middle of the night, people tend to disconnect their alarms or remove the batteries, so if there’s an actual fire the smoke alarm stays silent and the end result is who-knows how many preventable fire deaths each year. (If you’re wont to humblebrag, now would be a good time to frown, look confused and then say “Smoke alarms going off while cooking? For all the many meals I’ve made, I’ve never heard of such a thing.”)
Like the Nest thermostat, Nest Protect can be monitored by a smartphone app, which will send alerts to your phone in the event that your battery runs low or the alarm goes off; in the latter case, it’ll also give you a button you can press to call 911.
For anyone who decides to get a wifi-connected thermostat or smoke alarm, we offer the same warning we give to anyone with a wifi-controlled baby monitor, pacemaker, automobile or anything else connected to wifi: make sure your connection is well-guarded against hackers.
To offer just one cautionary tale, last August a Texas family reported that an anonymous somebody managed to hack into their home baby-monitoring system to watch and heckle their deaf daughter. Hackers breaking into your home smoke alarm might find fewer opportunities to outright spy on your family, but that’s the only good thing to be said about the scenario.