Never before have the real-world consequences of abundant IoT in your life been so perfectly encapsulated. The House That Spied On Me is an investigative report that involved the installation of assorted ‘smart’ devices in a family apartment, with a custom router box recording all data emitted by this Smart Home over the course of two months.

After Congress voted last year to allow ISPs to spy on and sell their customers’ internet usage data, we were all warned that the ISPs could now sell our browsing activity, or records of what we do on our computers and smartphones. But in fact, they have access to more than that. If you have any smart devices in your home—a TV that connects to the internet, an Echo, a Withings scale—your ISP can see and sell information about that activity too.

ISPs in other countries aren’t encouraged to read deeply into and spill the details of your most private activities. At the very least, however, the enterprises behind your devices (and their components and apps) tend to be less than forthcoming about the parties who stand to acquire (then sell and resell) any data harvested. The absence of the ISP as all-in-one vendor simply makes data acquisition spread across a larger number of collectors.

Yet as the article suggests, virtual assistants are shaping up to be fairly good approximations of all-in-one vendors, since the ultimate convenience is to control all your devices with voice commands, rather than a series of clumsy apps.

I had to download 14 different apps to my phone to control everything, which meant creating an account for each one of those apps. (Yes, my coffeemaker has a log-in and a very long terms of service agreement.) After setting them up, I thought I’d be able to control all the devices by issuing voice commands to Alexa via the Echo—the smart speaker that we’ve been using for the last year as a glorified timer and music player— but this did not go as well as I had hoped.

While relatively few devices are seamlessly compatible at present, the virtual assistant market is dominated by three tech giants who will ensure steady centralization of Smart Home operations. Their software has already penetrated over a quarter of US homes in the form of smart speakers, but anything with a half-decent speaker and microphone could in theory double as a virtual assistant at marginal cost to manufacturers. This would greatly magnify the “consent conundrum” already posed by the IoT in general:

Getting a smart home means that everyone who lives or comes inside it is part of your personal panopticon, something which may not be obvious to them because they don’t expect everyday objects to have spying abilities. One of the gadgets—the Eight Sleep Tracker—seemed aware of this, and as a privacy-protective gesture, required the email address of the person I sleep with to request his permission to show me sleep reports from his side of the bed.

The second biggest hitter in the Smart Home is the TV, together with subscription content services such as Netflix and Hulu (though the article reveals that even watching a DVD results in a flow of upstream data).

I couldn’t see what they watched on Netflix because Netflix encrypts streams. But I discovered that Netflix doesn’t encrypt images, so I could see the shows being recommended to them, which is revealing in that it shows what Netflix thinks they should like.

As for Hulu, which doesn’t even encrypt streams, it broadcasts the titles of everything you watch to “Scorecard Research, a digital behavior tracker, and Rewardtv.com, a website owned by Nielsen.” For both, this happens to include plain text, for example:

http://pt.rewardtv.com/otif.do?tfid=301&cp=soc&bcr=Hulu.com&pgm=Difficult%20People&plt=TV&seg=1&sid=1000046&epi=Season%201%20%20Devil’s%20Three-way&r=0.5704269525658884

Authors Kashmir Hill and Surya Mattu made a futile attempt to contact Amazon regarding why the Echo pings home every few minutes, even with the microphone disabled — far more frequently than any other device. This hyperactivity is apparently only to check for updates, something which all devices did at least once per day. The Behmor coffeemaker went off the rails when a downed server could not respond to its 2,000 pings in a single day.

Far beyond signalling when and for how long users are doing things, the piecemeal rise of Smart Homes will allow marketing departments to create incredibly detailed personal dossiers over extended periods of time. Even a momentary snapshot of which devices are online and their configurations can reveal both socioeconomic status and one’s propensity to surrender data. Every human being can be a longitudinal study, giving the possessors of data substantial abilities to manipulate, and — if you squint hard enough — the power to cure all society’s ills.