One of my good friends is a childcare professional, and has worked as a nanny several times. In her last job, her employer let her know that he had nanny-cams installed in and around the house.

She was on camera basically the whole time she was at work.

Now, while this is understandable (especially since it involves little kids), it's also a little ... creepy. And it's not the only instance of such kinds of security systems; they're becoming more and more common.

The fact is, safety is a universal human need. And nowhere is that need more pronounced than in your own home. You need to feel safe in your house, secure in the knowledge that you are well protected. You want it to be a place where you can truly let your guard down and rest, trusting that both you and your loved ones are safe.

The Internet of Things can help with that. But it also comes with a new set of risks.

The fact is, as IoT tech increasingly enters our homes (many times in the name of safety), the human cost of invasive technologies rises. One technological solution instituted in some places--like my friend's employer--is webcams everywhere. Practically every room of the house is recorded, with footage sent to the cloud.

This kind of "solution" produces more problems, though, and leaves you exposed in a new way. Because who has access to that footage? Who could hack into it? Hackers could do more than just find video; they could upload it to YouTube or send it to people who shouldn't see it. 

Bottom line: Safety is critical, but shouldn't come at the cost of privacy.

Companies like Nest and Ring aren't the only ones working on the problem. Home security startups like Minut are coming up with new and different way of handling safety, with a specific eye towards protecting privacy.

Minut's technology, called Point, uses what the company calls "soft safety" to keep things secure without invasive cameras everywhere. Significantly, Point never stores the data; it just analyzes it. Similar to Snapchat, where once a snap is seen it disappears, Point's data disappears if it's not relevant. The emphasis is on the science of safety.

"Point monitors the safety of your home without posing a threat to the sanctity of your living space," says the company's CEO, Nils Mattisson. "Most data processing happens on Point, and raw sound recordings never leave the device. In this way, your privacy is as safe as houses."

Plus, Point has another feature that makes it smarter than a lot of other ideas else out there, and keeps you safer at the same time.

In the old days, communities were tight. You knew your neighbors. If there was inclement weather, you got together to ride the storm out together--for safety. You were aware of what was going on on one another's properties and you were linked. There were no security companies with anonymous guards; you were protected by those around you, and you protected them.

Point plans to mimic this old-school system. Its features will include monitoring your home with soft safety, with important events (like a door being opened, or a window being broken while no one is home), first sent to your family. If none of them can respond, the alert will automatically be sent to your secondary group -- usually people who live nearby, who are willing to check things out for you. (Eventually loved ones won't need to have the Point app; they'll be able to get the messages via text or Facebook Messenger.)

"Our idea is simple," says Mattisson, "by connecting existing communities with technology we can spend less time worrying about our homes and loved ones."

It's a concept that has taken off. Point launched on Kickstarter in November of 2014, and raised almost 5x its original goal. Significantly, after the first generation of the product came out, a lot of users wanted even more features related to the collaborative possibilities.

For example, a lot of Minut clients want to use their Point technology as a cohesive neighborhood system (to alert each other if, say, a neighbor is out at work and too far away to respond to an emergency situation). This collective desire to function as a well-organized unit has directly informed the future generation of the product, with an updated version of Point shipping this year.

Technology is not inherently good or evil; it's a neutral force that can be used for either. Yes, it can be used to help improve our lives, but it can also be used in manipulative or malicious ways.

As it continues to expand (especially into our homes), we need to stay aware of how it can run amok, and how it can be abused. The goal shouldn't be just to use technology for the sake of it; it should be to use technology to build ethical solutions that solve real human problems, in a human way.

Our collective future may depend on it.

Published on: Oct 25, 2018