[Editor’s note: former TBP team member Spencer White is the author of this post.]
As I’ve been thinking more and more about how central housing is to our lives, I can’t get this Twitter thread I saw over the weekend out of my head.
An apartment complex in Chicago decided to drop a smart apartment bomb on cybersecurity expert Lesley Carhart, which led to a Twitter bloodbath:
Oh, Christ. Now I have to move, again. How about no. Opt out. I don’t want you damn smart lock. pic.twitter.com/M5CnWKUS8l
— Lesley Carhart (@hacks4pancakes) January 17, 2019
The short version of the story is: the national company that owns this apartment decided to replace physical keys with four-digit(!) keypads or a mobile app that unlocks your door. As part of this upgrade, tenants are also required to connect a smart home hub to their thermostat and water meters and run the hub off their personal router (if you have a smart lock and any of the security holes in the thread scare you, this is the lock in question).
There’s a lot to unpack in that thread, but given that we’re still in the very early innings of the internet of things and smart homes, it makes total sense to me to freak out at the idea of a landlord imposing something like this on you.
So many things could go wrong with a complex-wide smart lock system:
– What if your phone dies and you can’t remember your code?
– What if you get hacked and a thief changes your code on you?
– Does the maintenance worker or landlord have a master PIN for every door?
– What if the cloud computing behind the system goes down and the whole building’s doors get unlocked at once?
– What if you’re immobilized and there’s a fire and firefighters have to struggle with an internet connection to open your door?
– What if your landlord changes your PIN on you if you’re a few days behind on rent?
A teammate lives in a building with smart locks with no manual override. Once he was 4 hours late to work because the lock froze up with him locked inside. The only solution maintenance had was to cut the lock out of the door, letting him out but leaving his apartment unsecured.
— Jessica Scarane (@ohjessicamarie) January 20, 2019
It’s tempting to spin this right away into a compelling argument for home ownership, but I don’t think that’s necessarily productive. Carhart, the tweeter in question, admits she lives in a high-end apartment complex in Chicago, and if folks in that kind of living situation wanted to prioritize homeownership, they could find a good Chicagoland deal or another high-end complex that would love to have their business.
I’m more worried about what happens to the folks that couldn’t readily find other affordable housing when this tech comes to lower-income complexes. What if you run out of data on your cell plan while you’re at work and need to let a family member into your apartment to drop the kids off after school?
The questions I posed earlier become even more pressing when you bring income disparity into the picture. We might still be a few years away from mass-market adoption of smart locks and apartment IoT, but soon cybersecurity might be an important part of renters’ daily lives.
I’m keeping a close eye on this and other topics related to renting as I weigh my housing options in the new year. Follow along with the icons below.