Pitfalls of In-Home Technology – Privacy Concerns for Landlords and Residents
Technology in many ways has improved our way of life and has allowed us to be connected to each other more than ever before. However, even technology has its own pitfalls – take Facebook for example. Facebook has made it possible for people to connect with friends and family all over the globe and share so many details of their private lives through the platform. The benefits we can list for the platform are many, but it also has its share of pitfalls. For example, during the 2020 election it allowed for the proliferation of misinformation. It has never been so easy to get information in front of millions of people as it has on Facebook—leading to potentially disastrous outcomes as we seek information in order to make informed voting decisions.
Then we have smart home technology. One key example of such technology is Amazon’s Alexa. Commercials describe the Alexa speaker system as a personal assistant for your home. You can request Alexa to play music for you with a voice command, or to turn on the lights in your room. Long gone are the days when you had to actually get up to turn off the lights or take turns with your partner, Alexa can now do it for you! Now let’s take this technology a step further as Amazon has done with the use of Alexa for Residential, allowing Landlords to use the Alexa system as a way to manage the property. Residents would be able to pay their rent through the Alexa system and request maintenance as well. At first this all sounds great and could potentially ease some of the paperwork or unnecessary website logins to do these tasks. However, upon closer inspection it begs the question as to the degree of control the Landlord will have over the device – for example, potentially the Landlord would be able to do a routine video checkup through the camera via Alexa rather than have to show up to the unit in person. Although you would still need to grant permission for this virtual appearance, one can start to see how technology can easily cross the lines of privacy. All it takes is one bad actor with access to this technology to ruin its benefits for everyone else and in reality, some Landlords may not have the best interests of their tenants in mind to use the technology responsibly.
The purpose behind the launch of Alexa for Residential was to allow access to the Alexa system for everyone regardless of whether they have a home or an Amazon account. Essentially, a person could move into an apartment and use the system from day one without any account or setup necessary. To ease privacy concerns, Amazon has stated that the devices can be reset at move out so that a clean slate is offered to the new tenant. Amazon has also stated that voice commands and information shared with Alexa is deleted on a daily basis. The intention may be positive but given Amazon’s privacy fails it leads to growing concerns. On one occasion, a family conversation was recorded by Alexa and sent to a family contact accidentally after incorrectly interpreting snippets of the conversation as a command to do so. Moreover, Alexa is only supposed to listen to messages that are directly made to Alexa, but this has also failed at times due to human error.
It’s hard to know whether or not the new Alexa for Residential can be trusted any more than its previous offerings. The truth is that Landlords will have a powerful device at their fingertips and residents should be weary of the offering of this technology in their units. To discuss more about your privacy concerns in relation to Amazon’s Alexa or any other technology or platform as it relates to Landlord/Tenant issues, please reach out to us and we will be happy to discuss.