EFF's guide to creepy, surveillant Christmas gifts

Topping the Electronic Frontier Foundation's don't-buy for Christmas list: Facebook's Portal in-home spycams, followed closely by Alexa/Google Home and other "home hubs"; Verizon's "AppFlash" spyware-equipped phones; and even the Elf on the Shelf gets a look in (normalizes surveillance!).

There are many, many more products that we could talk about here: smart toys, baby monitors, fitness trackers and more. Overall, there are a few things to think about when you’re looking at buying a smart gift but trying to balance privacy.

Consider carefully what features a product has, and what that means in terms of data collection. Anything with a microphone, for example, can record what you’re saying—and may record something you don’t expect it do, as was the case for one Amazon Echo owner this May. Opting for a smart vacuum also means letting a company like iRobot, maker of the Roomba, map out your house.

Second, use your settings. A new smart device will probably have a lot of sharing options on by default, and set-up is a good time to go through the settings and figure out what you actually want to be exposing to companies and others.

Finally, it’s always good to take a spin through a product’s privacy policy and attempt to understand what data it collects on you and how that information gets shared with others—that is, if a company has taken the advice of EFF and other privacy groups and bothered to write a policy that a normal person can understand. Mozilla, in a privacy-focused gift guide of its own, determined many tech products have policies that are at a college reading level or higher.

Socks and books aren’t looking so bad now, are they?

The EFF Gift Guide: What’s Creeping Us Out [Hayley Tsukayama/EFF Deeplinks]