A magazine about programmers, code, and society. Written by humans since 2018.

Internet Of Unusable Things

This issue of De Programmatica Ipsum comes out as I have been in my current house for four years. The previous owners had installed a smart thermostat to control the heating and hot water, and had left it and the control hub along with all the instructions.

Needless to say, I could not actually use it, and had limited control over the heating in my house. The reason “smart home” technology exists is not because it is better for us home dwellers, but because the vendors get to generate a bunch of data about us and sell it (more accurately, to sell insights that they claim are derived from the data to marketers. Nobody actually sells data in the data economy; that would be selling the goose that lays the golden tracking cookies).

Not knowing who I am, but of course knowing that I am no longer the previous inhabitant of my house, my thermostat was out of my control. I could set some controls from the physical panel, though not the time which meant that the schedule features were becoming counterproductive as the device’s idea of what time it was became increasingly inaccurate. Of course, it can synchronise the time over the internet; just not over my internet.

Eventually it became clear that something needed to be done, and not wishing to fuss with my central heating system the easiest solution was to get a new hub and connect the thermostat to it. Remember how I said that the vendor is in the data business, not the smart home business? They wanted EVEN MOAR DATAS and made it cheaper for me to buy a hub and a collection of “smart” lightbulbs than the hub alone.

I set up the new hub, and it would not of course pair with the thermostat. So a call to support (they have since removed the phone number from their website, and redirect help requests to their “community forum”: they are in the data business, not the customer support business) later, and I find that I am supposed to go up into my attic, lean out from the rafters to the hot water tank, and hold some buttons on the side of the tank until a light starts flashing. Now the hub and the thermostat want to talk to each other, which the customer support agent demonstrates by turning my heating on and off remotely. End-to-end encryption has not made its way to the Internet of Shit yet, but it is nice to know that if the vendor ever identifies themselves in this post and are feeling vindictive they can turn my heating off at will.

Oh yes, I forgot to mention the lightbulbs. Screwed them in (I needed to replace cold cathode bulbs with LEDs anyway, and they were free), switched them on, all good. Well, mostly all good: one quickly dropped its connection to the hub and would announce this by flashing on and off. Another call to support, another demonstration of their power over my private life, and we are all back to normal.

And of course, I can connect all of this to Apple Home, accessed from my smartphone. So I can now, if I want to turn a light on, get my phone out (if it has signal), unlock it (not easy with a facemask), navigate to the Home app, find out which of the lightbulb icons represents the target Thing, and it is just a tap to turn it on. As long as my phone has signal, and the home internet is connected, and the network between the two has not been partitioned, and the hub is not having a strop. And of course, nobody else can do that, even if they are sitting in the dark in the room with the lightbulb. Is not technology marvellous?

Cover photo by CHIRAG K on Unsplash.

Continue reading "On The Need Of Regulation In The IoT Industry" or go back to Issue 029: Internet Of Things. Did you like this article? Consider subscribing to our newsletter or contributing to the sustainability of this magazine. Thanks!
Back to top