Microwave ovens aren’t spying on us (yet), but plenty of other products seem to be. From smart TVs to tech toys for kids, there are a slew of common household items collecting data about our location, habits, and preferences — and some are more sinister than others. Here are some of the ways your possessions could be tracking your every move.
1. Your TV might be bugged by the U.S. government
According to the latest dirt from WikiLeaks, the CIA has developed a covert hacking program that can transform your smart TV into a bug. Once your TV is hacked by the program, it has the ability to enter into a “fake-off mode” in which the TV appears to be off but is actually on and operating as a recording device. The program, known as “Weeping Angel,” uses the TV’s speakers and camera to record what it hears and sees. Then it transmits these private living room conversations to the CIA server.
2. Your child’s doll could be bait for a cyberattack
Cayla is a sweet-faced American-made doll with big, blue eyes and Bluetooth technology. Not only is Cayla adorable, she’s also interactive. Everything Cayla hears gets transmitted to a voice recognition company that helps the doll to hold human-like conversations, much like the iPhone’s Siri. Unfortunately, this technology also makes the doll a prime target for hackers. In Germany, where hidden microphones and cameras are illegal, the doll has been pulled from store shelves and government officials have ordered doll owners to confiscate the toy. In Norway, a consumer group has released a warning about the doll’s vulnerabilities. Consumer complaints about Cayla have been filed in the U.S., though the doll remains on shelves in America and in several European countries.
3. Your shoes could help retailers figure out your age or social status
The British retail analysis firm Hoxton Analytics is pointing its facial recognition software to the ground. Instead of faces, the firm’s technology records shoppers’ feet as they walk in and out of participating retail outlets. The data is then analyzed to reveal a surprising amount of information, including specifics about a shopper’s gender, age, and social class. It’s all based on the shoes a person is wearing. According to Hoxton executives, the retail analysis technology can determine a person’s gender based on his or her footwear with 80 percent accuracy. The company asserts that the marketing technology is much less invasive than scanning shoppers’ faces, but its use has raised concerns among consumer advocate groups.
4. Your cell phone could be surveilling your every move
Cell site simulators, or stingrays, are commonly used by law enforcement agencies to geolocate the cell phone calls or text messages of criminal suspects and other persons of interest. The New York Police Department, for example, has used the stingray technology more than 1,000 times since 2008 to determine a person’s location by monitoring their calls and texts. It’s not only New Yorkers who are susceptible to this sort of secret surveillance. Stingrays are used by local police agencies across the nation, as well as the FBI and CIA.
5. A hacker could infiltrate your baby monitor
If you use a baby monitor to keep a watchful eye over your child at night, know that a hacker could infiltrate the device in order to spy on your child. In a recent horror story, a stranger hacked a baby monitor in Washington state and used the device to communicate with a three-year-old child, as well as to track the movements of people in the room. The toddler’s parents reportedly entered their child’s room one night and heard a voice on the baby monitor saying, “Wake up little boy, daddy’s looking for you.” The child had reportedly told his parents that he did not like the monitor because of the voice that spoke to him on it during the night. But it wasn’t until the parents heard the voice for themselves that they understood what their child meant.
6. Your refrigerator could make you vulnerable to an email hack
Samsung’s latest voice-controlled refrigerator can play music, stream movies, and sync your Google calendar onto a display screen. Sounds cool, right? But beware: Earlier models of the smart fridge have allowed hackers to break into its owner’s email accounts. That’s because previous security shortcomings have allowed hackers to access the refrigerator technology in order to steal users’ Gmail login credentials. Here’s the silver lining: Samsung’s latest model hasn’t had any reported hacking fiascos — not yet, anyway.
7. Your webcam could be recording you
If your webcam isn’t password protected — or if the password is easy to hack — you could be under surveillance. Hackers around the globe are known to gain access to the webcams of strangers in order to peek into the private lives of their owners. There’s even a creepy search engine that matches voyeuristic hackers with unsecured webcams, making it that much easier for devious internet users to violate the privacy of strangers.