What Not to Buy Your Loved Ones If You Care About Their Privacy

A guide to avoiding surveillance tech

Will Oremus
Published in
2 min readNov 24, 2020


Photo by erin mckenna on Unsplash

There’s never a shortage of breathless holiday gadget guides, but here’s one that is legitimately a must-read if you’re planning on gifting any Internet-connected devices this year. In Debugger, technologist Thomas Smith rounds up “this holiday season’s creepiest surveillance gadgets,” and explains how each one might compromise the privacy or security of its unlucky recipient.

From Huawei’s Honor Band 5 fitness band, “priced at a suspiciously low $36.99,” to the Wyze Cam indoor smart camera, which just last year exposed the personal data of 2.4 million customers, it turns out you really can go wrong buying popular gizmos on the cheap. That’s because the real cost isn’t being captured in the price tag — it’s borne by the device’s owner, and in some cases their household and community, in the form of data that could be monetized or exploited in other ways.

Smith rightly notes that budget devices from less well-known brands tend to come with the fewest privacy safeguards: For example, a smart coffee maker from Atomi comes with a smartphone app that requests access to your phone’s camera, microphone, and location tracking software.