Smart home accessories are supposed to make our lives easier. That’s especially true for the various gadgets and gizmos we use in our efforts to make parenting run a little more smoothly, like video monitors that allow you to peep in on your sleeping child without waking them up.
For one woman in Michigan, though, the very device she’d installed to help keep her family safe was the very thing that allowed a predator to spy on her while she nursed her infant son in the nude, according to a lawsuit she filed.
Megan Pearce is a dispatcher with the Warren Police Department in Hazel Park, Michigan, which is part of what made the realization that a police officer might very well be doing the spying so shocking for her. Pearce uses the Nest Cam baby monitor, the video stream of which can be sent to and checked on a smart device. When the stream is being actively viewed, a little green light on the camera in the nursery will flick on.
Pearce says that only three devices had permission to view the feed: her iPhone, her boyfriend’s iPhone and her iPad. She wasn’t using either of hers, her fiancé’s was supposed to be in an evidence locker after he was arrested on a marijuana charge, and he himself was sitting in jail. So Pearce was rightfully shocked and confused when the Nest Cam’s green light flickered on when she was busy nursing her son — completely nude, since part of her routine is to bathe with the baby. When she used the Find My iPhone feature on her own phone to locate her fiancé’s, it pinged to a police officer’s house: Michael Emmi, part of the team that executed a search warrant on the couple’s home during Pearce’s fiancé’s arrest.
Despite the fact that the phone used to access the Nest Cam’s stream is not where it’s supposed to be (it was never logged in to evidence) and the fact that Pearce “found” the iPhone at Emmi’s house, the Hazel Park Police Department has said it won’t be investigating the officer, forcing Pearce to file a lawsuit to try to hold him accountable.
There’s a lot that’s messed up about this story. If Pearce’s allegations are correct, then Emmi abused his power as a police officer to break the law by spying on her without any kind of consent. It’s hideous that the police won’t even consider investigating this officer, and it’s incredibly worrying that if you were to lose your phone or have it stolen, a person could easily use linked smart devices to peep on you and your family by twisting the devices you have in place for your own safety.
Smart technology can be an incredible thing, and it can be particularly useful for busy parents. But it’s also clear that there are a lot of safety concerns that need to be resolved. When something like the Nest Cam can be easily used against you in such a horrifying way, we have to start asking ourselves if the small conveniences and peace of mind it’s supposed to offer are completely worth it.
Pearce should absolutely be able to use any device or strategy she wants to monitor her child’s safety and well-being. All parents should, and it isn’t their fault when people hack or steal them with malicious intent. But it has happened, and it keeps happening. Video monitors that have internet connectivity are vulnerable, and stories like this one remind us that there’s so much more work to be done when it comes to locking down the security of devices like this so that only the people who are intended to use them can.
While the chances of your own monitor being hacked are very slim, if you find it as worrying as we do, maybe you’ll want to consider walking the technology back a little and using an audio-only monitor or the most old-fashioned monitor of all — your own ears and eyes.