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Smart Homes in Australia: What You Need to Know

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Smart home automation is increasingly becoming popular in Australia, with the majority of the population getting busier and more dependent on technology to simplify tasks and make life more convenient.

According to the 2019 study by Australian emerging technology analyst firm, Telsyte, the country's Internet of Things at home (IoT@Home) market grew to $1.1 billion in 2018 and is forecasted to reach $5.3 billion by 2023.

More than five million Australian households—or more than 50 percent of the total households in the country—have adopted the smart home technology with at least one IoT@Home product installed by the end of 2018. A quarter of these households are considered “invested” in smart home technology, with at least five different IoT@Home products already installed, such as CCTVs, smart lighting and smart appliances, and smart plugs. This number is expected to grow with the average household using 37 IoT@Home devices by 2023.

Amid the growing popularity of smart homes, there are also risks that homeowners should be aware of. For one, smart-home devices are getting targeted by hackers for spying, data theft and various other reasons.

What is a Smart Home?

A “smart home” is a residence equipped with several devices that automate tasks normally handled by humans. Some are built into the structure itself and some added later, and homeowners operate them with applications, voice commands, automation, or using artificial intelligence.

Once a draw for the tech-savvy or the wealthy, smart homes and home automation is becoming more common. In the earlier days, it means Bill Gates’ $100 million-dollar smart home where everyone is pinned with an electronic tracking chip. Today, it becomes a full-blown consumer trend that many households have adopted.

For some homeowners, turning a house into a smart home can be as simple as buying a connected speaker. For others, it can involve linking several different products, including speakers, cameras, computers, smartphones, tablets, televisions, security systems, appliances, and more.

What does a Smart Home provide?

The appeal of the smart home is that it enables owners to remotely control parts of the home and configure time schedules for smart home-enabled devices to help control costs and be more energy-efficient (i.e. green homes) while providing added convenience and potential time savings.

Any device in your home that uses electricity can be put on your home network and at your command. Whether you give that command by voice, remote control, tablet or smartphone, the home reacts. Most applications relate to lighting, home security, home theatre and entertainment, and thermostat regulation.

Examples of smart home technology currently on the market include internet-enabled and controlled refrigerators, smart thermostats, smart lights with light occupancy sensors, and smart door locks and security systems. Most of these smart home devices now include a mobile app for managing them via a smartphone or tablet.

The most common benefits of smart home automation include:

1. Comfort and Convenience

Comfort and convenience are usually the main reasons to get a smart home. You can start with things as simple as getting smart lights. These can turn on/off using voice commands, location rules, sensor detection, or even simple schedules.

2. Safety

While you can buy alarm systems to protect your home, smart homes can offer added security. Connected lights, cameras, and even doorbells can help make a home safer. If you’re home alone and someone is checking out your house to see if they can break-in, having these kinds of devices might scare them off.

3. Entertainment

What is a smart home if not also a place to hang out and relax? This technology can also keep you entertained and informed in new and exciting ways. Connected speakers, combined with AI-based digital assistants, can play music, offer news and sports scores, and can even help you control other connected devices as well. Connected devices can also find a good film to watch, either at home or in a real movie theatre.

4. Multitasking Capability

If you want to take some of the tedious tasks of home care out of your hands, connected and automated devices have you covered there too. The most obvious device is the Roomba robot vacuum cleaner from iRobot, along with similar products. However, appliances can also come with smart home functions. Picture a laundry machine that automatically starts a wash cycle or fridge that orders milk online when it senses that you’re low.

5. Saving Energy

You can save energy and money with automated heating and air conditioning systems. Smart thermostats, for instance, quickly and precisely automate the heating and cooling of your home. This usually reduces your electric bill. Other products such as connected lights and appliances also use less energy by powering down when not in use.

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Risks of Smart Home Automation

Despite the many benefits provided by smart home technology, there are also risks that homeowners should be aware of. These include:

1. Unwanted Purchases and Other Mishaps

Google’s home assistant and Amazon’s Alexa can leave your home vulnerable to unapproved access that could cause costly errors or worse. In most cases, users of assistance devices provide all banking and vendor information, giving the device unlimited access. If one of your housemates or children chooses to order something you have not approved—or worse, someone hacks your device—you may end up facing some expensive consequences.

To get the most out of your home assistant while staying safe:

  • Use the remote feature instead of the voice activation mode for better control.
  • Switch up your “wake word” between “Alexa,” Amazon,” “Echo” or “Computer.”
  • Disable the voice order feature and allow purchases via pin-activation only.

2. Vulnerability to Break-ins and Fires

As awful as it is to consider, the very devices you rely on could become liabilities without plenty of precautions. Many smart apps grant privileges to turn an oven on or off, to lock or unlock a door, or to switch on or off exterior lights. Sometimes the privileges to perform these activities are rolled into one set of permissions that you must carefully monitor and control.

To ensure safety, see to it that each activity, along with its set of commands, is fully segregated for optimal control and safety. Also, make sure you only have the number of apps that serve your home’s needs to avoid confusion or overloading your IoT with information that it cannot properly sort out.

3. Hacking and Identity Theft

Hackers have found ways to tamper with various smart devices, intercepting passwords via Wi-Fi networks to cause all types of problems for homeowners.

To stay ahead of identity theft risks:

  • Update your devices and apps regularly. Use strong passwords and change them often.
  • Choose your apps wisely. Check the manufacturers’ recommendations.
  • Investing in high-quality identity theft protection. The right plan will help you detect malicious use of your personal data right away to help you catch hackers in their tracks, as well provides a high level of 24/7 customer service if you have any questions or an emergency.

Be Smarter Than Your Smart Home

There is a fairly consistent and multi-directional stream of exciting new ways to smarten up your life and your home, in particular. Unfortunately, as with all new technological advances, you may all experience growing pains or at least a learning curve since your increasingly smart world does come with some risks. And your home, your safe sanctuary, is ground zero for these risks.

Therefore, always be vigilant of the potential dangers associated with smart home technology and learn how to mitigate them to keep your home, your family and yourself safe.

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