Digital Ownership Is Getting Heated

Remote-controlled thermostats in Texas might serve as a reminder to what we give up when we go digital.

By Daniel KuhnCoinDesk Insights
Jun 22, 2021 at 4:41 p.m. UTCUpdated Sep 14, 2021 at 1:47 p.m. UTC
By Daniel KuhnCoinDesk Insights
Jun 22, 2021 at 4:41 p.m. UTCUpdated Sep 14, 2021 at 1:47 p.m. UTC

For some Texans, the dystopian sci-fi future we’re all dreading arrived late last week when state energy providers remotely changed home thermostats during a heatwave. As part of an energy-saving program called Smart Savers Texas run by a company called EnergyHub, participants opted to have their smart thermostats automatically adjusted during times of peak demand. This was in exchange for lowered power bills and entry into a $5,000 sweepstakes. 

But it took many by surprise

This article is excerpted from The Node, CoinDesk's daily roundup of the most pivotal stories in blockchain and crypto news. You can subscribe to get the full newsletter here

It’s important to stress the program was optional and that participants could opt out at any time. Thermostat adjustments would only last one to four hours at a time on weekdays from June 1 through Sept. 30, excluding holidays. "During summer peak energy demand days, we may briefly adjust your thermostat settings by a few degrees," CPS Energy, a Texas energy provider, said on its website. "We'll do this only as needed." 

Still, the event raises questions about the “ownership” of gadgets we allow into our homes. Proprietary software often comes with hidden terms and license agreements. No one reads the fine print. This was likely why so many Texans woke up in a sweat last week, but it’s happened before. There are reports of “smart locks” locking people out of their homes and Ring alarms becoming part of the surveillance state

“The internet itself has become owned and captured by big banks and companies,” Mikey McManus, a technology consultant and co-author of “Trillions: Thriving in the Emerging Information Ecology” told CoinDesk last fall. “Not everything should be connected.” 

Much of McManus’ work centers around preparing people for a reality where the world of atoms has been thoroughly disrupted or replaced by bits. We’re well on our way to an internet of trillions of nodes, or a “sea of informational devices,” where everything we do or touch is somehow integrated into the cloud. This new, potential data-centric epoch in human history is sometimes called the internet of things. 

“When we shift to trillions of computational devices, it's not information in the device. It’s us living in the information,” McManus said. This could be a blessing or a curse, depending on how much authority we grant these devices to shape the world around us. And whether human operators are privy to know why or how adjustments are made

Bill Gates’ $123 million mansion famously had temperature and lighting systems installed that would adjust to guests’ preferred settings. That level of luxury is now available to middle class consumers with smart thermostats. But did we trade comfort and convenience for ultimate control? 

As tech firms and governments become ever intertwined, we should remember what we may be giving away when we go digital. For some, crypto is a digital revanchist movement – an attempt to reclaim ownership rights over cyberspace. This includes money, obviously, but also identity and communities. I don’t know if a blockchain would have prevented what happened during the Texas heatwave, or if that would even be preferable, but I do know the conversation around digital ownership is only getting more heated.

The Festival for the Decentralized World
Thursday - Sunday, June 9-12, 2022
Austin, Texas
Save a Seat Now

DISCLOSURE

Please note that our privacy policy, terms of use, cookies, and do not sell my personal information has been updated.

The leader in news and information on cryptocurrency, digital assets and the future of money, CoinDesk is a media outlet that strives for the highest journalistic standards and abides by a strict set of editorial policies. CoinDesk is an independent operating subsidiary of Digital Currency Group, which invests in cryptocurrencies and blockchain startups. As part of their compensation, certain CoinDesk employees, including editorial employees, may receive exposure to DCG equity in the form of stock appreciation rights, which vest over a multi-year period. CoinDesk journalists are not allowed to purchase stock outright in DCG.

Trending

1
Diana Sinclair: People Aren’t 'Ready to Hear' About Inequities in the Metaverse

Web 3 can open up opportunities for marginalized groups, but it's not a silver bullet, says one leading NFT artist ahead of CoinDesk's Consensus festival.

Web 3 can open up opportunities for marginalized groups, but it's not a silver bullet, says one leading NFT artist ahead of CoinDesk's Consensus festival.

2
Biden Administration Wants Crypto Exchanges to Separate Customer and Corporate Funds

Federal officials saw Coinbase’s admission about customers’ vulnerability in a bankruptcy and will call for congressional action to segregate clients’ funds, source says.

Federal officials saw Coinbase’s admission about customers’ vulnerability in a bankruptcy and will call for congressional action to segregate clients’ funds, source says.

3
Crypto News Roundup for May 18, 2022

With bitcoin sliding back below $30,000 in sync with U.S. stocks, plus a look at the early fallout from the collapse of UST, CoinDesk’s Markets Daily is back with the latest news roundup.

With bitcoin sliding back below $30,000 in sync with U.S. stocks, plus a look at the early fallout from the collapse of UST, CoinDesk’s Markets Daily is back with the latest news roundup.

4
El presidente de El Salvador promueve la adopción de bitcoin entre países emergentes

Nayib Bukele recibe a representantes financieros de 44 economías en desarrollo en la reunión anual de la Alianza para la Inclusión Financiera.

Nayib Bukele recibe a representantes financieros de 44 economías en desarrollo en la reunión anual de la Alianza para la Inclusión Financiera.