Homeowner App Considerations
Updated: Mar 18, 2021
There is a massive smorgasbord of apps out there promising to help homeowners manage their lives and/or property. Besides "services", seems like almost every "Internet of Things" (IOT) product you buy for your home these days has an accompanying app. It's just too easy to find yourself in app hell, having excessive amounts of apps, many that might not even be serving you properly. This is not just a waste of time & money, but can slow your device down, reduce battery life (for mobile), and even compromise your security. In this post we'll talk about:
Where Do Apps Come From
Know the Owners & Creators
Your Information & Privacy
Making Smart & Informed Decisions
Most of what I'll talk about is based around my humble thoughts & opinions, along with some of my own personal practices... mostly focused on the decision-making process. Let me start off by saying... simply, do not buy and install apps unless you absolutely need them, and quite importantly before you do install something, understand who created it, where, and why.
Firstly, where was the app created and where is being managed? Personally, I never utilize an app not created and managed within the United States. Many reasons for this include; regulatory oversight (i.e. FTC et al), quality control, privacy laws, and ability to sue. What happens when you download an app from China? How do you know it's doing what they promised... do you trust the Chinese government for oversight? What about privacy? Being in California, we have strong privacy protections... do you trust the Chinese government for privacy? How about suing when damages occur? Can you sue an entity in China... well if you think you'll have success... good luck with that process.
Once I'm satisfied with location, I research the entity providing it. Is it just some kid in his bedroom or basement, and do you trust them? Will your potential issues and/or losses (if something goes wrong), easily outweigh their net worth (i.e. your ability to collect)? If it's a kid in their bedroom... likely yes. Or, is it a legal entity who's concerned about reputation (i.e. future sales) and will help you if there's an issue. Me, I prefer the latter. Now, I'm not kidding myself when it comes to (for profit) companies, as they're in it for a reason, profit. And free apps, are never really free, but they can be designed for you to evaluate it before use, provide subsequent subscription services, or even barter your use of it through trading of your personal data or other means. It's all up to you as to whether you approve of their respective system(s). Related to this is understanding why the app was created in the first place. Me, I'm fine with apps created for profit, I just like to know it and also possibly their end-game. Understanding their mission statement and goals may also improve understanding.
I personally use apps from Google, which is not an endorsement by any matter, but while Google has its detractors, many people use their apps, and they are headquartered in my State (California), so I'm a bit more comfortable knowing they're within reach if I'm ever dissatisfied.
Besides multi-nationals like Google, there are probably lots of apps created more local to you. For instance, there's a digital home management app out of the Greater Sacramento Area (El Dorado Hills, CA) called HomeZada. In fact one of the co-founders, Elizabeth Dodson, is a fairly public regional entrepreneur, among others winning a 2020 global pitch contest. If you look, you can likely find good apps that are both local and with players that are both public and known.
Lets now chat about costs. So, do you truly know how much that "free" app will cost you in the end? Personally, I like the ability to install an app for free, see what it's like, and then enable paid features if and/or when I need them. However, you need to be fully aware of what you're getting in to. Will they bill such (paid) utilization through your app store provider, or do they require a separate (individual / personal) payment account? If they bill through your app store provider, is the fee the same as paying individually / separately? Many times it's more. What about payment card security? Again, be informed... read the fine print, make smart decisions, and fully understand what it'll cost you both short and long term.
OK, location... check, owner.... check, cost... check, now do you know what are they going to do with your information? Are they tracking you or looking at other (system and/or unrelated) data on your device? A good app should always have privacy policies along with terms & conditions. Read them! Be informed... it's worth the time! Also, do you understand how they'll protect your information? What does their data center security look like? Also, what functionality do they need on your device? Most users just give carte blanche access to location data, tracking, microphone, camera, contacts, etc.. without really analyzing the need to provide it. My SOP is to block the apps access to everything on my device until and/or unless the app absolutely requires it. Why would a calorie tracker app need access to your Contacts... they probably don't... seems weird, but I've seen it. So, don't provide access unless you're certain of need and OK with use of it. I don't want to get into an Apple vs Android debate for mobile platforms, but from the results, Apple seems to be a leader in both device security and helping users make informed choices. While Facebook has been in the news regarding displeasure with Apple's disclosure requirements regarding tracking and use, users should be pleased with Apple, as it really should be up to the individual user to determine what happens to their information.
Along with security and data use, be sure to recognize that apps (obviously) consume precious resources on your device. One thing I see a lot, are users with dozens or even hundreds of apps running on their device and also in the background. IMHO, except for things like security and life-safety apps, I don't want anything running or refreshing in the background on my device(s) and generally switch them off (unless necessary). All my apps run just fine without and background processing. Also, if I don't plan on using an app for a period of time, and don't need the related data, I simply remove it from the device. These and other actions may help increase battery life, reduce storage (and potential related Cloud costs), and possibly make it easier to manage your device... keeping it simple.
To wrap here... this post may not have been what you were expecting, but I hope my blathering stimulates some thinking. I always sound like a broken record on this, but I believe that a) keeping things simple... only using what you absolutely need, b) making smart and informed decisions, and c) utilizing common sense, can help you navigate a path out of app hell.
Always feel free to e-mail me comments. You can find my info on the "Team" Page.
DISCLAIMER: I'm just a guy who's been around tech and knows some stuff. I always remind others that what I say is purely FWIW, IMO, FFT, FYI, and many other acronyms... so while I strive to convey quality deets... you get no promises on accuracy or validity. I'm sure a lawyer would say; information not guaranteed, actual results may vary, and use at your own risk.