What to do when your door lock is spying on you

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A couple of weeks ago, in the Flat Chat Wrap podcast, we talked about a woman in a Sydney apartment block who was locked out of her building when she accidentally picked up her husband’s keys and the block’s  “smart” security system cancelled the electronic fob.

The problem was that her face on the security camera didn’t match the one stored on the electronic register and so the key was deleted. The security had been ramped up becasue of a spate of overcrowding in the block.

Now we hear, thanks to a Flatchatter,  that residents of a block of flats in New York have successfully sued to be given physical keys for their ultra-modern door lock that are intended to be operated by smartphones.

Five tenants in a New York apartment block sued their landlord in March after the owners installed Latch smart locks last year. The system gave residents access to the lobby, lift and mail room.

But the system also reported back to a central unit, telling a surveillance system exactly who was using it. The residents who sued their landlords for real keys said the system was harassment, an invasion of privacy, and simply inconvenient.

“We are relieved that something as simple as entering our home is not controlled by an internet surveillance system and that because we will now have a mechanical key they will not be tracking our friends and our family,” 67-year-old tenant Charlotte Pfahl, told the New York Post.

“It’s a form of harassment,” 72-year-old artist and tenant Mary Beth McKenzie told the Post in March. “What happens if your phone dies? I don’t want to be stuck on the street and I don’t want to be surveilled.”

She added that her 93-year-old husband Tony wasn’t able to use a phone and was stuck inside the building after the owners installed the smart locks.

Latch’s privacy policy indicates that the company collects and stores user information, including GPS locations. That data is then shared with the owner of the building (in this case, the tenants’ landlord) and that in the event that the building is sold, this data may also be shared with the new owners.

“By forcing you to sign a privacy agreement to open your front door, Latch helps us see how the internet of things has brought bad data policies off-line, normalizing invasive technology,” Sage Lazzaro wrote in Medium in April. “It’s a new perspective on what’s really at stake when we sign that dotted line.”

The Hell’s Kitchen tenants building had been compelled to give up personal data in exchange for easy access to their place of living. The settlement marks a small win, for those who favour personal privacy over technological convenience, but a sign of the times for the rest of us.

 

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