Microsoft Wants You to Let it Watch Your House in "Near-Real Time"
July 16, 2013 3:00 PM
Is "Lab of Things" big science or big brother? The answer remains to be seen
Talk about ironic timing. Microsoft Corp. (
) was just
slammed with accusations
that it is collaborating with the U.S. government to
promote massive spying efforts
, and today the company announced the availability of its "
Lab of Things
", a "near real-time" effort to track your home utility usage.
First, what is Lab of Things? Lab of Things is Microsoft's latest cloud-based expansion to its cloud-connected smart meter project, which it dubs "HomeOS" (
originally code-named "Hohm"
). Both Microsoft and Google Inc. (
) are looking to
slowly build up userbases of households
with internet-connected smart meters.
The premise, in theory, is to have better control of your utilities by leveraging remote controls and/or by monitoring usage to try to cut your power footprint/expenses.
It is no secret that homes are ever-increasing hotbeds of new technology such as set-top boxes, game consoles, wireless routers, home automation devices, tablets, smart phones, and security cameras. This innovation is breeding heterogeneity and complexity that frustrates even technically-savvy users’ attempts to improve day-to-day life by implementing functionality that uses these devices in combination.
For instance, it is impossible for most users to view video captured by their security camera on their smartphone when they are not at home....To simplify the management of technology and to simplify the development of applications in the home, we are developing an "operating system" for the home.
In other words, Microsoft wants you to hook up your household security cameras (or y
our Xbox One's 1080p camera
, perhaps?) to its "big cloud". As an incentive it's offering Lab of Things -- a slick SDK that gives you functions to analyze big data sets.
If this all sounds a little Orwellian, it might not just be paranoia speaking.
As early as 2009 security researchers showed in
[PDF] that monitoring home power and water usage can
reveal what times you were home
, what times you cook, what times you shower, etc.
The Obama administration, which has committed to
an unprecedented campaign
of domestic spying,
calls "smart meters" a top priority
already begun in many states
. Unfortunately, if you want to remove your usage data from prying eyes, you may not have that right; in some incidents citizens have been
arrested for trying to block smart meter installation
But while a smart grid may allow minor tracking of citizens and lesser invasions of privacy, the Home OS promises a much more dangerous security risk, literally watching your household if you let it.
For those thinking of inviting big brother in, it is important to recall that recent leaks have indicated that Microsoft may be giving the
U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation
(FBI) open access to its SkyDrive cloud storage platform. According to leaked documents, Microsoft also worked the
U.S. National Security Agency
(NSA) to circumvent it encryption and other security mechanisms in its Outlook web chat and Skype telephony/video-calling service.
its cooperation in the spying, stating:
We have clear principles which guide the response across our entire company to government demands for customer information for both law enforcement and national security issues.
First, we take our commitments to our customers and to compliance with applicable law very seriously, so we provide customer data only in response to legal processes. Second, our compliance team examines all demands very closely, and we reject them if we believe they aren’t valid. Third, we only ever comply with orders about specific accounts or identifiers, and we would not respond to the kind of blanket orders discussed in the press over the past few weeks, as the
volumes documented in our most recent disclosure clearly illustrate
. To be clear, Microsoft does not provide any government with blanket or direct access to SkyDrive, Outlook.com, Skype or any Microsoft product.
Finally when we upgrade or update products legal obligations may in some circumstances require that we maintain the ability to provide information in response to a law enforcement or national security request. There are aspects of this debate that we wish we were able to discuss more freely. That’s why we’ve argued for additional transparency that would help everyone understand and debate these important issues.
Putting video of your house on the internet, where any hacker (or government agent) has access to it is an inherent risky proposition -- particularly given the recent revelations which indicates Microsoft has eagerly complied with domestic spying efforts, where rivals like Google have bucked the government data demands.
Microsoft is encouranging you to hook your home cameras up to its always-on cloud.
Lab of Things may have some attractive uses -- as long as you keep it out of the house. If you set up sensor networks, it can assist you in compiling data. Hobby climatologists and sociologists may gets some interesting mileage out of this angle.
For those who want to check out Lab of Things it's
in beta form. But don't say we didn't warn you. (The website for Lab of Things appears to be currently down, but keep your eyes peeled.)
Microsoft Lab of Things
The Next Web
"We’re Apple. We don’t wear suits. We don’t even own suits." -- Apple CEO Steve Jobs
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