How “Smart” Bulbs Track Your Behavior (Even When Lights Are Turned Off) and Why Manufacturers Want Your Data

By B.N. Frank

Privacy and security experts have warned for many years about privacy and cybersecurity risks associated with ALL “Smart” and wireless technology – cell phones (see 123), medical devices and implants (see 12), personal and “Smart” home devices and wearables (see 123456), utility “Smart” meters (electric, gas, and water), and everything that uses Internet of Things (IoT) technology (see 1, 2). Last month, researchers from Carnegie Melon University proposed product warning labels that would make it easier for consumers to understand this.

Of course, manufacturers may not be in a hurry to use them because their “Smart” products allow them to collect data on consumers to analyze and sell to 3rd parties.  This is referred to as “Surveillance Capitalism.” “Smart” light bulbs can be used for this as well.

From CDN Simius:


Let’s talk about 3 ways your smart bulb is spying on you.

Wait, smart bulbs can be used for spying?

Yes, we always think it’s only hackers trying to breach our privacy and monitor our private moments. However, with these devices, the companies that operate them sometimes have ulterior motives.

Why the focus on smart bulbs? Well, most people imagine their higher fidelity smart devices (like smart assistants) have the ability to spy on them. However, they cannot believe a device like a smart bulb, that can only turn off and on, could give any usable observations to eavesdroppers. This is far from the truth.

Let’s get into the 3 ways your smart bulb is spying on you.

How smart bulbs spy on you

Bulb Telemetry (tracking when it’s turned on/off)

Smart Bulb always on data
Photo by Vitaly Vlasov from Pexels

You turn your lights on, you turn your lights off, so what? The only data that could ever come from a smart bulb is binary and could never be useful to anyone right?

Wrong, give anyone enough data about something and they can use this data to find trends and other statical facts about that thing. It is especially scary when the subject of that data is you.

Here is an example. You wake up in the morning, you turn on your bedroom light at 8:00 am. Then, you walk to your bathroom and turn on the bathroom light at 8:10 am. Finally, you turn off the bathroom light at 9:10 am.

Hmm, 8:10 am to 9:10 am spent in the bathroom? That’s a long time. I can now sell that insight to advertisers and you will suspiciously start seeing ads for various bathroom appliances that save you time.

This is just a basic case, another fun example is tracking the times your bedroom light turns on and off overnight. This information could give eavesdroppers insight into your sleeping patterns and much more.

In-home Location tracking (and mapping)

Smart bulb location tracking
Photo by Denise Jans on Unsplash

In the previous point, we talked about basic tracking of the amount of time you spent doing something, like sleeping or using the washroom. Now we can get into a much more fun prospect, which is tracking your location in your house.

But “how can eavesdroppers do that?” you wonder. They only have data about the state of my smart bulb i.e whether it is on or off.
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If any of the above concerns you, you may want to install the “old-fashioned” incandescent (aka halogen) bulbs instead.  The promise that LED bulbs significantly reduce energy use and carbon emissions is debatable.  Some experts have also exposed them as being toxic (see 12345678).

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