Sorry, Big Brother Is Here to Stay

‘Smart’ home appliances are cheaper, better, and creepier. There’s only one company that might think different.

Ben Zotto
Published in
8 min readMay 27, 2021


Remember when your television didn’t spy on you? Technologist and Glitch CEO Anil Dash suggested a while back that there must be some big market out there for “dumb” appliances:

Dash’s pitch is certainly appealing to those of us who don’t like giving up any notion of privacy, but unfortunately, the market for such retrograde appliances is a lot closer to zero dollars than a billion.

I’m going to explain why you don’t actually want dumb devices, why smart devices are cheap and creepy, and suggest that there’s one company that could get away with it.

There’s nothing to watch on a ‘dumb TV’

Let’s say you did have a brand new TV from DumbHome Co. What would you watch on it? VHS tapes? Over-the-air broadcasts? Hook up your vintage Super Nintendo?

If the way you watch television includes streaming (Netflix, Amazon Prime) then the services are spying on you, even if the television itself isn’t. Even Comcast can track usage data on your cable viewing.

Of course, televisions are trying hard to spy on you also, because you keep generating usage data that has dollar value to the television companies. The only surefire way to make your TV dumb is to turn off all of its internet connectivity, which ranges from difficult to impossible. But you still need to give it a signal from somewhere and the somewhere probably isn’t an old VCR.

Before the internet, consumer electronics (and appliance) economics were simple. Company X manufactured Thing Y, which cost them Z dollars to design, produce, and market.

As long as you, the customer, were willing to pay more than Z dollars to purchase Thing Y, the company was in the black, making money, popping champagne, fatcats in limos, etc.

There was an industry that was not like this, even back in the day: print media. Magazines and…