Ecobee now has three smart thermostats in their line up -- the Ecobee Smart Thermostat Premium, Smart Thermostat Enhanced, and the Ecobee3 Lite. Their Ecobee3 Lite version comes with the basic smart thermostat things like the ability to control the thermostat through an app or Apple Watch, schedule your thermostat when you’re away on vacation, and save energy with smart algorithms. It’s a lean, (probably not) mean, fairly decent from a privacy perspective machine.
Also good to know, in 2021, Generac bought Ecobee as part of their plans to expand into the “intelligent home energy ecosystem.” So far, this acquisition doesn’t seem to have changed Ecobee’s strong commitment to privacy. Here’s hoping it never does.
What could happen if something goes wrong?
Ecobee does collect personal information on you. Things like name, address, email, telephone number, online identifiers such as IP addresses and device IDs, location information, as well as things the smart thermostat learns about your home like thermal and house size information. That’s potentially a lot of information gathered. The good news is, Ecobee says they never sell your personal data. And they don’t seem to share your personal information with third parties for targeted, interest based advertising, which is also good. So, all that data this smart thermostat collects on you probably isn’t going to be shared around the internet to target you with tons of ads to buy sweaters because you keep your house so cold all winter long (we hope).
The biggest privacy concern you’ll likely find with this smart thermostat is with the third party voice assistants you can use it with. The voice requests you make through Amazon’s Alexa, Google Assistant, or Apple’s Siri of your smart thermostat will let Amazon, Google, or Apple know more about you. But hey, Amazon, Google, and Apple probably know way too much about you already.
Ecobee reportedly also stood up to Amazon when they demanded Ecobee share more user data with them. From The Verge, “...the online retail giant asked Ecobee to share data from its Alexa-enabled smart thermostats, even when the customer wasn’t actively using the voice assistant. Ecobee reportedly refused to have its devices constantly report back to Amazon about the state of the user’s home, including data on which doors were locked or unlocked and the set temperature. The reasoning being that enabling its devices to report this data to Amazon would be a violation of its customer’s trust.” Good Ecobee. Bad Amazon.
Ecobee does ask users if they would like to donate their anonymized data from their smart thermostat to share with energy scientists to help “design more efficient and sustainable homes.” That seems good on a couple fronts. First, Ecobee asks users to donate their data with an opt-in rather than opt-out option. Second, the goal of this data sharing is a good one, not to target you with ads, but to help scientists save the planet. Again, good work Ecobee!
What’s the worst that could happen with your Ecobee3 Lite? This smart thermostat (like the Premium and Enhanced versions) does have the ability to schedule your thermostat while you’re away on vacation. If that data were to accidentally leak out onto the internet through a hack or bug it could let others know you are away from your home for a while. That could be creepy information to have in the hands of people you don’t know…or even people you do know. This probably isn’t likely to happen. Still, good to remember it could. All in all though, Ecobee is one of the best smart thermostat makers out there from a privacy perspective.
Tips to protect yourself
- If you connect to Alexa, delete your historical voice recordings from time to time, by saying “delete what I just said"
- When starting a sign-up, do not agree to tracking of your data.
- Do not sign up with third-party accounts. Better just log in with email and strong password.
- Chose a strong password! You may use a password control tool like 1Password, KeePass etc
- Use your device privacy controls to limit access to your personal information via app (do not give access to your camera, microphone, images, location unless neccessary)
- Keep your app regularly updated
- Limit ad tracking via your device (eg on iPhone go to Privacy -> Advertising -> Limit ad tracking) and biggest ad networks (for Google, go to Google account and turn off ad personalization)
- Request your data be deleted once you stop using the app. Simply deleting an app from your device usually does not erase your personal data.
What can be used to sign up?
What data does the company collect?
Name, email, phone number, address
Voice recordings (collected by Amazon)
How does the company use this data?
How can you control your data?
What is the company’s known track record of protecting users’ data?
No known incidents in the last 3 years.
Can this product be used offline?
User-friendly privacy information?
Links to privacy information
Does this product meet our Minimum Security Standards?
All network traffic is encrypted.
A password is required for the web portal and mobile app.
Ecobee runs a bug bounty program, which means that anyone who finds a security issue and discloses it responsibly may get paid.
Is this AI untrustworthy?
What kind of decisions does the AI make about you or for you?
Ecobee smart thermostats have a feature called eco+. It leverages AI to tailor temperature settings, transition to clean energy when available, and optimize cost savings.
Is the company transparent about how the AI works?
Does the user have control over the AI features?
Generac Announces the Closing of Its Acquisition of ecobee Inc.Ecobee
Ecobee’s new thermostats are its best yetThe Verge
ecobee vs Nest: Don’t Overlook These 9 Crucial DifferencesThe Smart Cave
The Privacy Risks of Your Smart ThermostatVPN Overview
Donate your dataEcobee
Amazon tried to coerce Ecobee into collecting private user data, the WSJ reportsThe Verge
Ecobee’s smart thermostat now supports Siri voice controlEngadget
The Best Smart ThermostatNew York Times
Generator company Generac announces plans to buy EcobeeCNET
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