I will never install both smart devices in my home | Jobs Reply

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I live in a pretty smart house. We have Alexa in every room. Yes, including our two bathrooms. We have smart bulbs or smart light fixtures in almost all of our rooms, and they can control brightness, intensity, and sometimes color. Our hall lights up when we walk through.

We have smart shades on our family room windows that open and close on verbal command. Ever since I installed our Alexa-controlled microwave, I haven’t touched the buttons once. And while our air fryer won’t make me a sandwich on command, it will cook chicken when we tell it to.

We even have a toilet seat that opens automatically when you walk into the room. For a while, we had that installed in the guest bathroom, and it definitely it caused panic among the visitors if we did not brief them before they entered and were ready to do their business.

I’m telling you all this so you don’t think I’m a Luddite. I’ve really embraced hands-free control whenever possible. My wife didn’t exactly accept it, but she puts up with it because she is very tolerant with the patience of a saint.

But with all that, there are two smart devices that I will never, ever install in my house: smart garage door opener and smart lock outside.

Garage door openers

To be fair, garage door openers existed long before voice assistants, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth existed. And garage door openers have had major problems since the day the first radio-operated remote was sold. Well, actually since the sale of the second radio remote control.


This is my old school door controller, set to lock.

Go ahead and Google the phrase “garage door opener neighbor”. Carry on. I will wait.

Yes. It is a thing. Sometimes a remote that opens one neighbor’s garage door opens another neighbor’s garage door. That goes back to before there were hackers and cyber attacks to worry about. Basically, classic garage door opener remotes operate via radio frequency, and each opener is designed to operate with a slightly different frequency or identification.

But if two units are sold in the same neighborhood with the same basic configuration, sometimes one unit can open another user’s garage. Some openers set their connection frequency using tiny dip switches in the remote control and opener, so if you fiddle with the dip switch on a fairly remote, you can even open a neighbor’s door in. Some of the more modern RF openers are not subject to this, but many of the cheaper units are still vulnerable, even to this day.

My garage door has an RF powered remote, but I actually keep the door closed and locked via an internal wall switch, so no remote anywhere can open it.

That was all before the advent of smart garage door openers. In many ways, Wi-Fi or Bluetooth controlled garage door openers are significant bigger safe than the old RF units. While hacking a Wi-Fi signal is possible, it requires a level of expertise — okay, okay, the neighbor’s teenager probably has.

But honestly I’m not all that concerned that someone (whether the neighbor’s kid or a nation-state hacking team) will hack my garage door Wi-Fi signal. Read on to find out what worries me. But first, let’s talk about front doors.

Smart door locks

Actually, first, let’s talk about something that not many of us talk about or even think about: storm doors and screens. When I grew up in New Jersey, our front and back doors were doubled. The front door had a storm door and the back had a screen door.

Screen doors and storm doors are lighter weight doors that reside just outside the main door. Storm doors usually have glass windows and are meant to add extra protection to the home in storms, while letting in a bit more light. Screen doors have screened in window areas, to allow the door to stay open and provide ventilation, but keep the bugs out.

Although the house I grew up in had these somewhat anachronistic architectural details, no place I’ve lived in since has had a storm or screen door. In fact, according to a very informal social media survey conducted by a builder based in the Minneapolis, St. Paul area, less than 35% of those surveyed indicated that they had a storm or screen door.

This is an article about smart homes. So where am I going with this discussion of screen doors? Allow me one more digression, and I promise that I will tie it all together.

I have a dog, and before that, I used to have an indoor cat. Every day, when I read my local Facebook group or community posts on Nextdoor, there is a story about a dog or cat getting out, posted by the pet’s heartbroken parent. Over the years, friends and neighbors have told horror stories of guests, landlords, or tradesmen who accidentally left a door open and let an animal out, often losing the animal forever.

So, let’s assume you install a smart lock on one of your doors. We also assume you have lever style knobs on that door. If you’re one of the 65% or so who don’t have a screen door or a smart door, you now have an unlocked door that a dog smart enough with a door handle can open out of. There’s a good chance your furry friend will recognize the sound of the door unlocking, find that opening being slammed, and head off to investigate before you can intervene. Who knows what will happen next?

Yes, yes. I know it’s quite long and unlikely, especially since most residential doors open inward, but it could happen.

It’s not the hackers, it’s the glitches

So, look, I’m not really all that worried about hackers breaking into my Wi-Fi and triggering my smart door locks, although I understand it’s a possibility. Honestly, if a rogue nation-state wants access to the inside of my house, all they have to do is show up at my front door with coffee and freshly baked cookies.

I’m not that worried about local hackers. My phone is password protected. But there are many people whose security is rather lax, and what happens if their phone is lost or stolen? What if they stopped carrying keys? How do they get in?

My Wi-Fi setup is pretty secure, I keep track of what’s allowed on my network, so it’s unlikely the neighborhood kids would remotely start my front door lock or garage door opener if they were controlled by smart devices .

No, my concern is the glitches. I have a Govee Lyra motion-controlled light in my hallway. It is always set to blue. “Alexa, set Lyra to blue,” works fine. But every week or so, the Lyra changes modes. He suddenly decides to put on some kind of light show that we didn’t ask him to perform.

I mentioned that we have Alexa in every room. We’ve set the wake words very carefully so we don’t accidentally wake Alexa in a room or something. And yet, every so often, one of the other Alexas decides to wake up and spout some nonsense or start playing a random song. It is a little disconcerting.

It doesn’t happen often, but one day about a year ago, my smart shades opened on their own. Apparently, a software update was initiated on the SmartThings hub, and it rebooted, and the screens decided to open.

It’s not just me. I previously wrote about how Alexa woke up New York Times technology columnist Farhad Manjoo in bed one night screaming. I’ve also written about Alexa owners reporting stories of their devices breaking out with motionless, bad-sounding laughter.

Devices apply updates. They restart automatically. Cloud services that control IoT devices go down, shut down, or update with problematic code.

To be fair, this is an expected side effect of the complexity we allow into our lives. After all, an always-on broadband connection between our smart devices and AIs running on back-end server farms is a very complex technological feat. Amazingly, I can tell Alexa to set Lyra to blue, and she does.

But when it comes to putting our security, our pets and our families at risk, great doesn’t cut it. Glitches are not enough to tolerate. We generally love our smart devices, but there’s one way we never describe them as “rock solid and reliable.”

And this is the thing. Until a door lock or garage door opener is, obviously, rock-solid reliable, I’m not putting it in my house. If you decide to go for it, my only advice — especially with an exterior door lock — is to install a screen or storm door first. They are more difficult to open, usually require you to press a button and pull at the same time. That way, if the front door unlocking device glitches, it will keep your furry family safely protected behind the secondary door. Unless they can figure out how to open the outer doors too.

So what smart home devices do you have installed? Do you have a smart garage opener or smart door lock? Do you have a pet that can open a door? Share your stories with us below.

You can follow my daily project updates on social media. Be sure to follow me on Twitter at @DavidGewirtzon Facebook at Facebook.com/DavidGewirtz, on Instagram at Instagram.com/DavidGewirtz, and on YouTube at YouTube.com/DavidGewirtzTV.

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