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2022 Smart Home Holiday Gift Guide

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privacy friendly gadgets

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Smart tech generally means devices that can connect to other devices by Wi-Fi or Bluetooth and can be controlled via an app on your phone. Although such items carry privacy risks—you’re inviting app makers into your home, after all—they are popular products and can make great gifts, thanks to a mix of fun and functionality.

There is one way to take some of the risk out of using smart home devices, though—and that’s with a VPN. The problem is there isn’t a way to install a VPN directly on most smart home devices, such as doorbells, fridges, and thermostats. That’s where our first recommended item comes in…

1. For the modern smart home: ExpressVPN Aircove router

Yes, we are first shamelessly plugging what we consider the best smart home device to get your loved ones this holiday season. We built the Aircove as a router that has ExpressVPN functionality built in. The router itself is super powerful, using Wi-Fi 6. All you need is an active ExpressVPN subscription, and you can turn on the VPN via your phone or computer browser. You can also easily change VPN locations—and in fact use up to five different locations on different devices in your household. Not only can you stream on your smart TV with a VPN, but you’ll also get VPN security on your other Wi-Fi-connected appliances.

Buy it on Amazon (only available in U.S. right now) or Flashrouters (worldwide shipping).

What about privacy?

With Aircove, every device on your network can enjoy the privacy and security benefits of ExpressVPN. Aircove will mask your IP addresses, encrypt your traffic, and much more, all while providing fast and stable dual-band Wi-Fi for your whole family.

2. For the reader: PocketBook e-reader

Have an avid reader in your home? They’ll appreciate a versatile e-reader like PocketBook. PocketBooks support various e-book formats (like the popular EPUB) and come in multiple models with varying sizes, colors, and screen technology.

The Kindle may be the most well-known e-reader, but it locks you into Amazon’s ecosystem. They only work with Amazon’s AZW ebook format, which means you are forced to purchase your e-books from Amazon and to use an Amazon account—even if you don’t want to.

What about privacy?

Through the Kindle, Amazon collects data like what you read, when, how fast you read, what you’ve highlighted, and book genres—on top of everything else Amazon collects. Meanwhile, Pocketbook says they don’t collect “personal identity information” but only “technical and usage data” to give you recommendations.

3. For the style snob: Goat Story Gina coffee maker

Sure, it’s a bit of a gimmick to have a super stylish coffee maker controlled by an app. But it’s sure to wow the recipient if they like both coffee and fancy design. This coffee maker performs three brewing methods: pour over, immersion, and cold drip. There is a scale built-in, which you can use in conjunction with its phone app.

What about privacy?

The app might collect your contact information and might be able to see your coffee-making habits. But it’s otherwise not a particularly high-risk device.

4. For the pet lover: Petlibro Automatic Cat Feeder

Cat waking you up at 5:30 every morning to be fed? It’s a tale as old as pet ownership. With this Wi-Fi-enabled food dispenser, you can program dry food to be portioned out and released during specific times via your phone. You can even record a short message to play to your pet to coax it to the feeder when you’re away.

What about privacy?

Use at your own risk, as the app for controlling the feeder may collect your location and how you use the app, in ways that can be linked back to you (according to the App Store). The feeder would enjoy VPN protection if you have it connected to Aircove with ExpressVPN connected.

5. For the desk jockey: Elgato Stream Deck MK.2

This is a tabletop device that you plug into your computer, featuring several rows of buttons. Each button lets you perform multiple commands at once. For example, you can launch Zoom, unmute your mic, turn on your camera, and block notifications with just one press.

The Elgato Stream Deck was originally created for live streamers, allowing them to perform multiple commands with a single button when they’re busy entertaining fans in real time. The device is also useful for workstations, if you find yourself constantly repeating the same commands. The Stream Deck’s functionality comes from plug-ins that you can download from the Elgato App Store.

What about privacy?

While there isn’t much notable in terms of privacy, the product has no built-in radio or AI voice assistant. The Stream Deck connects to your computer via USB-C, so no one can wirelessly hack your workflows.

6. For the audiophile: Sonos One speakers

When it comes to audio, a few brands come to mind, and one is Sonos. With sleek speakers that provide room-filling sound, Sonos’s lineup is highly regarded among audiophiles. The Sonos One is a powerful smart speaker that comes with Sonos’s own AI voice assistant, which allows you to control your speaker with just your voice. With the One SL, you can create a stereo system (usually a costly investment) by grouping the two speakers via the Sonos app.

What about privacy?

We’ve recommended it before, and still, Sonos is tops among speaker brands for privacy. The Sonos One SL doesn’t have AI voice assistant functions and is controlled over Wi-Fi instead of Bluetooth. The One SL encrypts the device and all its communications with other devices. There’s no built-in mic, so you can rest assured no one will be eavesdropping through it.

7. For the health nut: Withings Body+ scale

Smart scales have slowly but surely been taking over the market. Their prices have been coming down, making them far more accessible. The Withings Body+ tracks your weight, water percentage, and bone and muscle mass. The robust body composition data is synced with the Withings app over Wi-Fi, where you can personalize a fitness program to meet all your health goals.

What about privacy?

Smart scales collect your health data, so it is extremely important you don’t just buy the first smart scale you see. Make sure you get one that respects your health data. Withings says it doesn’t sell or share your data, making their products a good bet for smart health devices.

8. For the gamer: Steam Deck

While contemporary handheld gaming devices like the Nintendo Switch, and the now defunct Nintendo 3DS and PlayStation Vita, have ruled the handheld landscape, none of them can do what the Steam Deck does. What essentially sets the Steam Deck apart is that it is, for all intents and purposes, a handheld PC—with all the bells and whistles. It should then come as no surprise that the Steam Deck has been hotly anticipated.

While the device comes with SteamOS pre-installed, users can also install Windows instead. The Steam Deck provides full access to a user’s Steam library and can either install games directly onto the device or on an SD card—provided of course that said games are compatible with the Steam Deck’s hardware (i.e., if they have controller support.)

What about privacy?

SteamOS was built from scratch—and based on Arch Linux—and is open source. As mentioned above, while you can install Windows on the Steam Deck, doesn’t mean you should. The Steam Deck is, first and foremost, a gaming device, and SteamOS is your best bet for keeping the device private.

9. For the parent: Eufy Security Indoor Cam 2K Pan and Tilt

It won’t be for everyone, but many, many parents of small children appreciate Wi-Fi-enabled cameras as baby monitors or security cameras. When the kids grow up, it can also be used as a real security camera at the front door. The Eufy Security Indoor Cam 2K Pan and Tilt offers 360-degree coverage—which is optional, in case you only want to cover a small area. You can also set it to capture footage only when motion is detected or continuously.

What about privacy?

It’s one of the best for privacy in a category that’s not known for privacy protections, featuring the ability to disable the camera, the option of local storage (in a memory card) rather than cloud storage, and the ability to specify areas to monitor. Again, the Aircove with VPN would offer protection to any Wi-Fi security cameras against hacks.



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