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'There is a Big Brother element' to smart home technology

Thursday, October 30th 2014 by Ellen Branagh

There is a fine line between smart home technology being a form of “Big Brother” and a useful way of caring for people, a wireless home network boss has said.

Cees Links, founder and chief executive of GreenPeak Technologies, told Cable.co.uk that concerns about connecting people’s homes should be addressed by the companies building the products themselves.

GreenPeak makes controller chips for smart homes and the internet of things, with applications in lighting, security and family lifestyle systems.

Mr Links, who was part of the team that designed and developed Wi-Fi, said that smart home technology would be able to collect information and recognise behaviour that did not fit into ordinary routines.

He said: “Like if your mother opens the fridge every day before eight o’clock and on a certain day she doesn’t open the fridge at eight o’clock you get an alert on your phone, ‘we have noticed that today your mother didn’t open her fridge’, maybe you want to give her a call to see if everything is okay.

“Just think about it, you can imagine all kinds of new applications.

“You can imagine that if people come home at weird times it might be good that you get an alert on your phone.”

He admitted: “There is a Big Brother element, but there’s a fine line between Big Brother and caring.

“Ultimately we make chips to make devices communicate and we let other companies think about products, services, applications, to bring that together.

“So we enable Big Brother, but we did already with Wi-Fi. It’s up to you how you want to use it.

“Do you want to use Facebook, or not? It’s your choice.

“What Facebook does with your data is a regulatory issue that politicians are grappling with to resolve. Is it your data or is it Facebook’s data?

“So there are issues. We cannot solve those issues, what we can do is basically put the ingredients out there that at least these things become issues to be resolved.

“But in the meantime we can enjoy it.”

Mr Links said the technology could be used to monitor things in the home and alert the owner if something was wrong, such as a broken boiler.

He said: “You can say that’s Big Brother, but I believe there are many kinds of useful applications in particular in identifying exceptions.

“An alarm is an exception, there is somebody in the house when they shouldn’t be there.

“You could say an alarm is Big Brother but you could say, ‘well I like Big Brother around in my house when I’ve turned on the alarm.”

He said Wi-Fi had also been greeted with concerns before its “market breakthrough”, adding: “It took 10 years. We had our first Wi-Fi in 1991, the market breakthrough was in 1999 with Apple, and the real market adoption started in 2000/2001.

“And there were a thousand reasons why people were telling me you don’t need Wi-Fi.

“Not secure, not reliable, concern for your health, your fillings may start trembling out of your teeth, Big Brother, ‘I don’t want to be connected’, ‘I don’t want to do my email all the time’, ‘I’m happy to read a book’, ‘cable, I make so much money on cables, I don’t want wireless’.

“A thousand reasons.”

Mr Links, who has predicted that the smart home market will dwarf the smartphone market, said the technology could even help people live at home for longer.

He added: “Today you have your laptop, your tablet, your smartphone connected to the internet.

“In a few years from now you’ll say, ‘hey, why isn’t my washing machine connected to the internet?'

“And then think about new applications. People can live at home longer because they can have Big Brother caring for them.

“There is a fine line between Big Brother and caring, but that is for the people and the product builders to find out.

“And we make it possible to find it out. We have no answer but you at least can make the question tangible.”

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