At Dwellwell, privacy has been a primary goal since our inception and it is a key driver of our architectural and artificial intelligence (AI) processing strategy. Recently, well-regarded legal resource, JD Supra, published an article about data collection by smart home/smart building technology. In a nutshell, the article noted:
- Smart home and PropTech products are growing exponentially with increasingly sophisticated features and capabilities
- Additional smart technology typically means more data collected, along with the risk of hacking and privacy concerns
- Tech companies need to discern what data they truly need to collect, and further, how long data is stored and how it’s being used beyond its primary intent.
This article echoed some of the principal ways that we think about managing privacy. We’re always considering the data we truly need. That is, are we gathering only the information that is required to make our product work.
Industry Context: typical data collected by popular smart home technology
Think about a smart doorbell, like Ring. It uses a camera for convenience (“there’s a package on my doorstep”) and security (“there is something strange going on”). Consider the data privacy concerns of capturing photos and video; where and how long is that data stored and who has access to it. Smart doorbell users sign a user agreement, allowing the provider to capture and store images. However, your neighbors may not be so keen on captured images and video of their kids at your door asking you to buy candy for a fundraiser.
Similarly, if you use a virtual voice assistant (like Alexa), you know how helpful it is to be reminded of important events, to play your favorite music on command, to control the lighting in your home, and so on. To accomplish these tasks, the voice assistant must listen, record, and understand human speech. In this case, users may start seeing highly topical ads while web browsing and wonder – are their recorded conversations correlated to the advertisements?
The data that Dwellwell collects
Dwellwell’s technology and purpose are vastly different from the above examples. Primarily, this is because we are only monitoring the health and status of the systems inside a home.
Our product does not use cameras or voice recognition; rather, we employ a broad suite of sensing technologies to monitor the ambient environment in a home. Further, Dwellwell interprets human speech as “noise” and is designed specifically to ignore human conversation. And if the product detects human speech in the collected data, the algorithm discards those data.
As noted, Dwellwell tracks the systems inside a residence, not the occupants. We are focused on detecting vibrations, acoustics, and other indicators that identify maintenance concerns, like dripping water, electrical sags and swells, or inefficient HVAC (Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning) operations.
How Dwellwell protects collected data
Another concern surrounds protecting collected data. Dwellwell collects data from the systems inside a home, not the occupants. We do not collect any personally identifiable information (PII) for the residents in the homes where Dwellwell is installed.
Consistent with industry norms, we take the expected security precautions including data encryption. We also prevent outside entities from gathering, intercepting, or decoding our sensor data; “eavesdropping” on our communications; or “forcing” outside software into our proprietary sensors. In addition, we fully anonymize the stored data that are more than a few weeks old in our non-pilot product installations. That is, Dwellwell cannot associate these data back to the original sources. We continue to aggregate data so we can track general trends in residential systems and home maintenance; however, we have no ability to build a “profile” of specific users or the residents of a home.
What this means to our users
Why do we go to this trouble? We are interested in monitoring residential systems, not people or their behaviors. When we help property owners avert a major repair or a catastrophic system failure, we have accomplished our goal. In this way, we believe by taking better care of our homes, we take better care of ourselves and each other, and create a more sustainable world.
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