Roomba With A View


During much of my EMS career, starting way back when, if an EMS crew observed a person walking down the street gesticulating wildly and yelling, we’d stop and evaluate the person. More often than not, said person became a patient and was transported to the Emergency Department for a psychiatric evaluation. Now, a person walking down the street gesticulating wildly and yelling is more than likely to be talking on his Smart Phone. Or maybe playing Pokemon Go, if that’s still a thing.

Smart Phones aren’t really smart and they don’t make the people who use them smarter either. In fact, they sometimes seem to have the opposite effect. People seem to think that if they see something going on, they just have to get video of the action in hopes of posting their video. Said video will hopefully “go viral” and people with no idea of what actually happened will make pronouncement about what happened, who did it, who was the hero, and who was the villain. Fact free judgement at its best.

Of course the danger for EMS (and other public safety entities) is that the video will be posted somewhere entirely without context. Also missing will be the “back story” of what went on before the camera was turned off. Shocking at it may be, sometimes people will edit video to make someone look bad and bolster the video takers cause. Ask Katie Curic about that. Be careful out there, my brothers and sisters.

During my career I responded to many calls for delusion patients. Side joke, I used to tell people that often the only way to tell the difference between the crazy person and the sane person was that the sane person wore a uniform. If we responded to an abode and the patient told us that the CIA or FBI was beaming messages to him (occasionally we had female psychiatric patients, but for the most part they were males) and then said that the three letter agency was watching them through a camera in their TV, they’d buy a ride to the hospital for a psyche eval. If I were still working in the field and a patient told me that, I’d carefully write a note telling them not to say a word and we’d leave immediately. It might not be a three letter agency, but Smart TVs can and do monitor activities in proximity to where they are located. It’s not much of a stretch to imagine a small camera or microphone being embedded in a TV.

Speaking of the FBI, a few years ago they part of a lawsuit against On Star. The FBI was investigating a person for some crime or another. The person owned a Cadillac equipped with On Star. The FBI contacted On Star and asked On Star to turn on the microphone in the car so that the FBI could listen in on whatever the suspect was talking about. The court found for the subject of the investigation against, not the FBI, but against On Star. It seems that by agreeing to do this for the FBI, On Star was breaching a contractual obligation they had to the subject to provide them with a service and that opening the line continuously so that the FBI could listen in ran the risk of On Star not working when correctly. Thus the subject was not getting something that he had paid for.

The point of this story being that even in the privacy of your own car, you might not have privacy. This case was decided at the very dawn of phones that could to more than just talk and text, the technology is totally different now. If anything, cars are more interactive than before and now your location can be tracked, including where and when you go and stop. BTW, some two way radios used in public safety can be commanded to open their microphones remotely too.

We now have what I call the “Internet of Snitchy Things”. Devices that are sold to us as bringing joy and convenience to our lives are actually little spies. Just about every free app, and many that you pay for, collect and send “anonymized” data back to someone. That’s used to “improve your experience” but data is often sold to other companies to improve their targeted marketing.

Amazon’s Alexa is a voice interactive system that can do all sorts of neat things. It can also be turned on remotely without anyone in the room knowing it. Not necessarily by Amazon, but by anyone with sufficient knowledge to hack into it. Which can be a lot of people because the “Internet of Snitchy Things” is also the “Internet of Things” that have really crappy, if any, security.

That includes any of those fancy new Internet enabled appliances, like you refrigerator, washer, clothes drier, microwave, and BBQ grills. At least my son told me that he saw a WiFi enabled BBQ today while shopping for BBQ grills. If something has WiFi, even without Internet connectivity, it can be hacked and used to steal data. Baby monitors are a great tool for eavesdropping. After all, isn’t that what they are designed to do?

Why your Roomba may soon morph into a ‘creepy little spy’

Yes, even your vacuum cleaner is sucking up data along with the dust. The Roomba is a robotic vacuum cleaner that learns the layouts of the rooms in your house. Which is neat, because after a while it will stop bumping into stuff and just clean your floors. However, that data is also able to be transmitted back to Roomba galactic headquarters and sold to people who want to sell things. Again, it’s anonymized data, but it’s YOUR anonymized data. I’m sure it’s all spelled out in the agreement you agreed to buy buying and activating the thing. Still, it’s creepy. The Roomba doesn’t have a microphone (yet), but there are people who have developed hacks to use voice controls to run the machines.

My point in all of this crazy sound talk is to warn my brothers and sister in public safety to be circumspect in your dealings with the public. Depending on the laws of the state in which you live or work, a person may be able to secretly video and/or tape you without either you knowledge or permission.

Maybe those crazy people weren’t crazy, they were just ahead of their time.

Gotta go now, one of my lamps is calling.