Autonomous Cars in More Cities, Pushback Against Smart Cities, and More on Five For Wednesday

Google-Self Driving Cars

Welcome to Five for Wednesday, our weekly round-up of tech-focused news.


  1.  Dallas adds itself to the list of cities making autonomous vehicles available between city landmarks. Dallas is an incredibly car-dependent city, and the start-up bringing AVs in is hoping to alleviate congestion by offering self-driving shuttles during peak driving times between popular destinations.
  2. Waymo, a subsidiary of Google’s parent company Alphabet, is launching a self-driving competitor to Uber and Lyft. The project is a highly-guarded secret, and is thought to be sending it first fleet of cars into the Phoenix metro area in early December. We’ll be keeping an eye out on this!
  3. Last month, I told you about Sidewalk Labs’ (another Alphabet company) pilot program in Toronto to rethink the smart city. The ambitious undertaking has recently come under fire from multiple groups, citing surveillance and data privacy concerns. I think the idea of the public civic trust of data sounds great on the outside, but would be interested in the details of that trust, and it looks like others are wanting information as well.
  4. Speaking of surveillance, the “smart neighborhood” is a trend we identified to watch for 2019, and we’re starting to see the pushback when neighbors start using their doorbells to set up a passive (but very digitally present) “neighborhood watch.” The “sharing video with your neighbors” trend started with footage of cute animals in yards going viral, but now has grown to include entirely crime-focused footage sharing apps. Again, the key here is about balancing the surveillance aspect between “too intrusive” and “helpful for the community,” and the balance of those two purposes is not as cut and dry as we’d hope.
  5. Having houseguests for the holidays? Build them an Alexa skill to let them know how to use the finicky universal remote, where to find spare towels, or what creaky step to skip on the staircase.

And this week’s bonus, spend some time with the Emoji Builder online app that I can’t stop using – making Emoji more nuanced means I can fully express myself with icons such as “smiling angry surprised face with hand covering mouth.” smiling angry surprised face with hand covering mouth

More Hits Than Misses: We Review Our Predictions for 2017

To start out 2017, we decided to take a stab at some predictions for the year in technology. How did our team fare? We take a look back at our predictions, with a twist – each member of the labs took a look at someone else’s predictions and reviewed them! And we added Akram to the team this year, but he’s not off the hook – he’s giving us an overall rating of this year’s predictions.

In general, the CRT Labs team had some great predictions, with a lot of them ending up being true or at least, partially true. The general prediction about security and privacy being a major problem in 2017 turned out to be accurate all around the world. Several hacks, leaks, attacks, privacy concerns, followed by new and upcoming legislations show how important 2017 was in this regard. It also means that we should keep a cautious eye out with our 2018 predictions. While renewable energy technology didn’t gain the traction we had hoped it would, it definitely is being refined and researched,  and we’re looking forward to what the coming years hold in terms of solar, wind and hydropower technologies. While increased awareness in cryptocurrencies was not part of our prediction, several applications based on its underlying technology – Blockchain – were seen implemented on a wide scale and continue to evolve as more people become aware of its uses. Tesla’s self-driving truck did disrupt the trucking industry as per our prediction – the question remains on whether they will follow suit with autonomous buses within the coming years. Keep an eye out on the CRT Labs team’s predictions for the upcoming year – it is bound to be a very interesting one!

After solar shingles, there will be solar siding and solar window offerings for traditional consumers. This would mean that homes wouldn’t need consistent direct sunlight to harvest energy. Homes in traditionally less-sunny places could harvest solar as effectively as homes in the southwest. Home energy battery storage will make this an even more viable option as batteries look less and less like batteries and more like traditional appliances. Cities will also begin implementing systems that aren’t one type of energy harvesting. Solar, wind and hydropower will take great steps to become prominent in large and small cities. Cities will find creative ways to gather energy from these three methods that are both practical and aren’t highly visible. Portland is already generating hydropower using its water mains. Expect smaller form factors in all three areas for ancillary energy harvesting. Solar sunflowers and wind trees are examples we may see deployed on boulevards and parks in 2017. 

Chad had a lot of solar power-related predictions this year, sensing the rise of more renewable energies being used over traditional fossil fuel sources. Solar power was the fastest-growing source of new energy in 2017 for commercial settings, beating out coal, the usual leading new energy growth source. The Paris-based International Energy Agency “expect[s] that solar PV [photovoltaic] capacity growth will be higher than any other renewable technology up to 2022.” We didn’t see the big push towards solar windows and siding – the technology is still being honed, with a paper published in late October touting the academic research into solar film for windows and siding application. Unfortunately, we did see a decrease in solar usage in residential areas, with the introduction of new laws and regulations that favor other energy sources. However, the outlook of solar energy is still bright (pun-intended) for many, with Google’s Project Sunroof giving you an estimate if your home is right for solar energy by calculating the amount of power your home could generate compared to your current energy usage. – Adrienne

In the managed smart home arena, we’ll see the telecommunications companies continue to grow in importance, and many of the “closed” managed smart home systems will loosen some of their restrictions, allowing consumers to bring their own devices. In order to secure the increasing number of internet-connected devices, the government will get involved in encryption and security requirements. Open-source software will continue to be incredibly important. Open-source distributed ledger applications such as Hyperledger and Corda will be among the first widely-used Blockchain apps, and open-source tools will also become increasingly important to journalists and citizen activists. Voice control, artificial intelligence, and deep machine learning will continue to redefine our relationship with devices, and self-driving trucks will disrupt the trucking industry (with cars and busses not too far behind). Monitoring the health of your home – CO2, energy efficiency, VOC, and water contamination – will see a rise in importance as rising CO2 levels and water contamination continue to make news.

I’ll highlight each prediction by Chris and then give my take. On August 1st, Senator Mark Warner introduced legislation that addresses internet of things devices and cybersecurity. It was read twice, then referred to the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs. There has been no action since. Groups like the FCC, FTC, and Department of Commerce introduced programs to establish best practices and start a cybersecurity framework. Asset management blockchain apps are just starting to be formed. Our own Dave Conroy developed several, including at least one using Hyperledger. And, we joined the Hyperledger Association this year! For the citizen activists and journalists, Twitter seems to have been the tool du jour, since a lot of the information coming at us is now coming in 140 character bytes (or is it 280?). As far as other tools, there weren’t a lot of new innovations this year. There’s been a lot of talk about VPNs being needed. One company that made great headway into the encrypted communications front is Protonmail. They released an amazing VPN client this year and an encrypted contacts client. We are seeing more voice assistants roll out, with Google’s latest Google Assistant work, as well as Google Lens and Apple opening up on artificial intelligence/machine learningTesla showed off their electric semi truck with a host of autonomous features. It’s iminent. Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors, recently declared we are ‘quarters, not years’ away from self-driving cars, and Las Vegas has been testing self-driving buses. There have been a lot of studies published this year on the effect of CO2 levels on people and the planet. While explicitly, there hasn’t been a concerted push by national entities or groups on the monitoring of the health of the home, I believe Chris’ prediction will definitely be a strong one in the coming year. We believe in it so much we are creating hardware and software to approach the problem. – Chad


In 2017 we’re likely to see an increase in the tension between our public and private identities. On the one hand, declaring exactly who we are — and where we are, and when we are there — is an essential part of customizing many user experiences. Concerns about surveillance, though, are prompting more people to use (or at least start asking about) Tor browsers, personal VPNs, and other tools that provide increased security and anonymity. Balancing the demands of both openness and privacy will be a huge story in 2017. (To learn more about Americans and their views on surveillance, visit the Pew Research Center.)

Joe was totally on-point, although many in the non-technical world may have missed some of the more subtle things that happened this year. On the bad side for consumers and internet users, Congress voted to allow ISPs to sell all your data, Equifax was hacked, and FCC Net Neutrality was repealed. In response to these actions we did see some movement from browser vendors: Google is set to add ad-blocker technology to Chrome, and Firefox has added opt-in tracking protection. We also saw some movement in do-it-yourself VPN services like Algo, Open VPN, and Streisand. Tor didn’t get as much attention as I would have liked, but Mozilla did step up and match donations to the Tor Project. All in all, it was a pretty rough year for privacy/security minded folks on the Internet. And really everyone in the U.S. has been affected by the Equifax hack, and we have likely barely seen the fall-out from that incident. On the bright-side it’s made our legislative branches become acutely aware of the problems of consolidated data collection, and we are likely to see some major changes coming in the new year. – Chris


Now that Google Home has hit the ground running, I predict this year the company will integrate its popular home assistant into their mesh network platform, Google Wifi. Each router will act a lot like an Amazon Echo Dot, but bring in the added mesh networking capabilities. Right now, a 3-pack of the routers costs $299, with additional units costing $129 (the same as a Google Home); however, I believe the company will introduce a smaller router, without the ethernet ports and with tiny speakers, at around $69 to compete with the $49.99 Echo Dot. Google’s goal is to get an assistant in every room in order to control your smart home. They’ve already pulled ahead of Amazon with their multi-room support, which not only has intelligent voice detection to allow you to only interact with the Google Home closest to you but also allows you to control playback on other Google audio devices in other rooms. Of course, for Google to control your whole home, they’ll need to expand compatibility, but since their API opened to the public at the end of 2016, both third party and native support for devices will be coming in 2017.

Adrienne’s absolutely crushed her 2017 prediction of “Google’s goal is to get an assistant in every room.” This year, Google expanded its hardware virtual assistant product offerings in an attempt to compete with the Amazon, the clear incumbent in this space. After an aggressive holiday discount, The Google Home Mini is currently priced at only $29. As Adrienne predicted, this makes you the ability to control your smart home with your voice in any room in your house. While they didn’t accomplish through adding voice to their mesh networking platform, I think we can give her a pass. Especially since there is still reason to believe that this may come true in 2018, as the Google Wifi is due for a hardware refresh. – Dave


I predict we have not seen the end of consumer-gradenial of Service (DDoS) attacks caused by consumer grade IoT devices. In fact, I feel it is possible we will see a large scale event in 2017 that would cause the disruption of legitimate internet traffic in the United States for up to 24 hours. As we covered in our Insecurity of Things blog series last October, it only takes a few dozen hardware manufacturers to not follow best practices to leave over a half million devices vulnerable to hijacking.  With these manufactures already facing heavy competition and slim profits margins, coupled with the influx of new startups rushing to into the space – security and privacy are not given the priority they deserve. Part of our mission here at CRT labs is to educate REALTORS® and consumers about these issues, and it is very promising to see both parties starting to prioritize them when they are deciding what devices to put in their homes. However, until the hardware vendors start taking on the responsibility, there is still a significant risk for large scale attacks. For more information about best practices and how you can keep your devices secure, please visit one of our partner organizations – the Online Trust Alliance.

While Dave’s prediction of a large scale disruption of legitimate internet traffic for 24 hours didn’t come true – thankfully! – it certainly wasn’t a great year for security and privacy. One information security resource recently reported that 33% of all business were hit by a DDoS attack in 2017; that’s up from 17% in 2016. Were Internet of Things devices involved in the increased number of attacks? They sure were, so much so that some tech journalists took to using “the DDoS of Things” instead. DDoS attacks are sometimes launched as a smokescreen for other kinds of cybercrime, and nothing about 2017 suggests that this bit of double nastiness shows any sign of abating. So Dave might not have hit a home run, but his batting average is way up there. – Joe

Smile for the Camera? Considerations for Using Surveillance Technology

Our next guest blogger is Jessica Edgerton, associate counsel at the National Association of REALTORS®. Following Lee Adkins’ post about voice assistant hubs, we wanted to share a look at the legality of having cameras and microphones in homes for sale.

Real estate agents and sellers sometimes use video recording devices to monitor open houses and walk-throughs. The motivations for surveillance are varied, and can be compelling. Video recording can offer an added layer of security for real estate agents conducting solo showings or open houses in remote areas. A prominently posted notice that security cameras are in place may act as a deterrent for physical attacks, theft, and vandalism. Some sellers and real estate agents may even use recordings to gain insight into a home’s marketability.

Canary Camera set up in CRT Labs

Canary Camera set up in CRT Labs

While surveillance technology can offer many benefits during the home-selling process, it is important to consider the possible legal implications. In general, individuals have the right to control legal activities within their own home. However, every state has privacy laws addressing the ways in which people may be permissibly recorded, and these laws vary widely. In addition, the laws governing audio surveillance versus video surveillance are not the same. It is therefore essential that homeowners and real estate professionals consult with an attorney prior to setting up any surveillance as part of a sales plan.

Video-Only Surveillance

Video surveillance is generally permissible in any situation where an individual does not have a reasonable expectation of privacy. Because it would be unreasonable to expect privacy while one is in public, the ubiquitous presence of video cameras on street corners, at banks, and in public transportation is entirely within the bounds of the law. Similarly, if a video camera records a prospective buyer walking into a home’s entryway with her real estate agent during an open house, she would have a difficult time claiming that she had had a reasonable expectation of privacy. However, if the buyer steps into a bathroom to use the facilities, she would almost certainly – and reasonably – expect privacy. Therefore, homeowners should avoid installing cameras in bathrooms, even if the homeowner’s intent in doing so is both reasonable and innocent – for example, as an effort to prevent the theft of prescription drugs. (Instead, sellers should always make sure that medicines, weapons, and valuables are securely locked up or taken off-site during showings.)

Audio Surveillance

With very limited exceptions, audio surveillance laws in every state require the consent of one or all parties to a recorded conversation. Know your state laws prior to utilizing any recording device that captures audio.

Ethical Considerations

In addition to legal considerations, sellers and real estate agents should consider the ethical and reputational implications of making surreptitious recordings. The following best practices can help avoid reputational debacles involving recording devices:

  • Provide Notice. Consider providing prior notice when recordings may be made during a showing. You can post the notice in the MLS or on the property, or send notification via email prior to showings and open houses. In addition, if any cameras have an audio recording function, be sure to disable the audio function or get all necessary consents pursuant to your state’s laws.
  • Keep Recordings To Yourself. Never publish or share any recording you make of other people without their consent. The only exception to this is if you happen to record possible criminal activity – in that case, you should discuss the incident with the police, and provide them with the recording upon their request.

A Note to Buyers’ Agents: Don’t Take Privacy For Granted

Buyers and their agents should keep in mind that nanny-cams, surveillance cameras, mobile phones, laptops, and tablets are all capable of recording video and, in many cases, audio. Prior to any walk-through or open house, buyers’ agents should consider advising their clients of the possibility of hidden recording devices. A good practice is to simply save all thoughts on a house until everyone is back on the sidewalk.

Jessica Edgerton is associate counsel at NAR. Her work includes extensive membership education and outreach. She is a regular speaker on the subjects of cyber fraud, cybersecurity, and legal risk mitigation for real estate professionals. She contributes to REALTOR® Magazine, AE Magazine, and RIS Media on a wide range of risk management topics.