Kellyanne Conway, a senior counselor to President Donald Trump, recently made the claim that microwave [ovens] at Trump Tower were turned into cameras and used to spy on Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.
Like many, at first I laughed at the suggestion. Then I thought about the Internet of Things (IoT). Regardless of the politics here, the idea of a microwave oven listening to you is not that farfetched when you consider the potential reach of the IoT. If such a microwave were voice enabled, it would be listening to you.
Ms. Conway is not an engineer so her explanation of an eavesdropping microwave was incomplete and her motive is not to educate anyone on the science of such appliances. But an internet-connected microwave is not impossible. (I doubt that it will “turn into a camera,” although any microwave could come with a camera. And the microwave oven certainly could be recording Mr. Trump’s voice.)
General Electric is supposed to have a smart refrigerator that you can access while grocery shopping to make sure you don’t miss an item. Washing machines connect to the internet to gather data on water usage and frequency as well as how the appliance performs. Toaster-appliance manufacturers seek to internet-enable their products to see how often they are used. “Smart” light bulbs already exist. Same with internet-enabled home thermostats and even garage door openers. Your front door can be internet-enabled and opened by your smart phone.
I haven’t seen the internet-enabled coffee maker or microwave oven yet, but they could be in the works.
Could these devices spy on you? One could argue that they already are. One purpose of these internet-enabled appliances is to gather data on what you are doing with them so that marketers can make more attractive products.
The other purpose is to help build artificially intelligent systems. Users of products like the Echo, whether they are aware of it or not, are participating in the education of Amazon’s artificial intelligence program. These devices may not store your words for posterity, but they are using them to learn how we speak, how we phrase things, and eventually how we think.
Is this spying? Perhaps. Does it matter to you? How much of your privacy will you trade for innovation and convenience?
Filed Under: Design World articles, IoT • IIoT • internet of things • Industry 4.0
Mark Shapiro says
At the recent CES event, there were a bunch of internet connected coffee makers. There are many net connected appliances coming to market – some silly, some not. Web connected fridges have been popping up for years.
I would buy a web connected coffee maker IF it could fill itself up with coffee beans and grind them. Of course, it also need to be able to change its own filter for each batch of coffee and also have a connection to the home’s water line.
On the scary side, web connected appliances make great bot net targets for hackers. See big DDoS attack a few months back
Mark L says
I’d rather not have all these things “watching” and recording what I’m doing, just so the companies can be more profitable. The advantage to me is, in my opinion, minuscule. I’m very comfortable deciding what I need to be without having it flashing on my phone or laptop.
William K. says
A voice command enabled microwave oven is probably among the very stupidest idea so far this year. Given the probability that it would be activated accidentally with nothing inside, leading to expensive damage, voice activation does not make any sense at all. And internet connectivity is equally a poor choice, because this appliance is one that really always needs a local operator to load and start.
As for the woman making all of the spying claims, I have heard similar claims from folks in institutional mental health wards. It is a fairly common fear among those suffering from some forms of mental illness.
Leslie Langnau says
Ah, but the possibility of such a thing will not stop companies from making one, just because. Whether we like it or not, marketers will try to sell us anything. But I agree, it’s not the brightest idea. I will resist internet connected appliances for as long as possible!
scott johansen says
All reasonably intelligent people should understand that anything connected to the internet is capable of transmitting, receiving and monitoring activities. That is a fact and is very easily verified. That would include all smart devices in your home.
Voice activation is being built into many things and will continue. Microwave signals can be used to transmit energy and data, including radio and television data – that is a fact.
I found this info in 5 minutes of searching.
The longest microwave radio relay known up to date crosses the Red Sea with 360 km hop between Jebel Erba (2170m a.s.l., 20°44’46.17″N 36°50’24.65″E, Sudan) and Jebel Dakka (2572m a.s.l., 21° 5’36.89″N 40°17’29.80″E, Saudi Arabia). The link built in 1979 by Telettra allowed to proper transmit 300 telephone channels and 1 TV signal, in the 2 GHz frequency band. (Hop distance is the distance between two microwave stations)
It is a fact that people are unintentionally equipping their homes to be extensively monitored.
These are scientific issues and not partisan bullshit interpretations.
The polarised reactions to data collection are optimism that the outcome will be beneficial and paranoia that it won’t. Unconditional optimism is non-existent and conservative idiots whip the ‘spying’ horse for all it’s worth. There’s nothing brave about the new world.
The Government has said they would spy on us through the IoT
CIA Chief: We’ll Spy on You Through Your Dishwasher
Airborne Bob says
Anything is possible in the world of high tech. Heck, we control the weather. And, I personally control Wall Street casinos as any stock I put money into goes down in value .