As a writer/editor for a home-improvement magazine, I receive a lot of story pitches about new products, materials, and technology for home construction. These submissions typically come from the marketing and/or public relations departments of the various companies that manufacturer or distribute the product in question.
Although, we try to give you the latest news and views of cool tools, fresh products and burgeoning technology, we don't intent to simply regurgitate the talking points of the folks sending these submissions. If you want to read their thoughts, you can always visit their website to read the copy directly off their advertisements.
We aim to offer more with HIR magazine, so we often follow up with questions for more information, and when relevant, even test the products ourselves. We aim to go the extra mile, do a little research, and give our readers additional insight.
One product category that seems kind of nebulous is that of "smart technology" as it relates to internet-connected household devices and how (and by whom) those devices can be controlled remotely.
In our follow-up research I've detected a pattern: Nobody wants to talk about who or what entity has ultimate control over these devices. When I pose such questions, I get no answers.
Recent email from a PR correspondent:
"I’m writing to propose a story idea and interview or guest writer/bylined article submission addressing the topic: Staying Energy Efficient Amid Expected 10-year High Heating Costs This Winter. America’s homeowners can expect to shell out more cold cash to keep warm this winter as they face the highest home heating costs in more than a decade - making optimal energy efficiency more essential than ever.
Here are the financially frostbiting facts. The average cost of home heating is expected to increase by 17.2% since last winter from $1,025 to $1,202, according to the National Energy Assistance Directors Association (NEADA). Those who heat with natural gas will confront the largest spike with their cost predicted to soar 34.3% over last year. Conversely, homeowners who use electric heat are forecasted to see the lowest increase at 6.9%.
The story would discuss (among other topics you might request):
The Latest Home HVAC Systems: An overview of the newest, most energy-efficient home cooling and heating systems.
“Smart" Home Heating and Cooling: A primer on "Smart" home heating and cooling covering available systems and technologies and how to best leverage them for primary or vacation homes.
Simple Energy-saving Tips: A host of tips and tricks for simple, practical quick fixes around the house that can help significantly enhance energy-efficiency.
The interviewee or guest writer is: Dennis Stinson, Vice President of Sales for Fujitsu General America."
These type requests are fairly common, and since the PR person offered to cover "other topics" at my request, I made the following request:
"I'll take a look at a guest submission IF the writer of the article will address the following concern that many homeowners have about "Smart" thermostats:
According to ABC affiliate Denver7, in August, Xcel Energy prevented thousands of "smart thermostat" customers in Colorado from changing the temperature in their homes for hours during a heat wave on Tuesday due to an 'energy emergency.'
Emergencies aside, I've heard a lot of anecdotal feedback from homeowners who are resistant to installing such technology based on concerns that it grants the utility companies and associated government regulators the power to impose thermostat regulations based on ideological or political agendas, wresting freedom of control from the individual homeowners. Can your writer explain why such fears are unfounded? Or are they valid concerns?"
The lady said she'd look into my request. That has been more than a month ago, and I never heard back. The same PR person did follow up with a different story-angle request from Fujitsu, but my question remains unanswered.
It's not the first time, either. Every time I inquire with one of these tech companies about how much individual control the homeowner ultimately has when relying on a smart device, I seem to get stonewalled.
And I find the silence to be fishy...
I'm not making any conspiratorial accusations but I'm not getting any answers, either. I'd like an honest professional in the industry to field this topic or refer me to an informed source online where it's been previously (and responsibly) covered.
So, I'll state the question once more for the sake of clarity, in case any industry experts out there reading this can answer the question...
For the individual homeowner who likes to consider themselves "the ruler of their domain," does installing a smart device in your home ultimately grant control of the device to a third party?
The ABC News article I cited above seems to confirm this is true, but it's not something you'll see advertised by the companies who sell you the products.
- M. Weber