The Never-Ending Myth of the Internet Fridge

Who's buying them?

Key Takeaways

  • A smart refrigerator is just another insecure device connected to the internet. 
  • The internet fridge would make a great home-automation hub.
  • Automatic food ordering makes sense during lockdown.
LG InstaView Side by Side Refigerator
LG

Manufacturers dream of selling us internet-connected refrigerators, so why do we never want to buy them? Maybe, finally, their time is coming.

LG’s new smart refrigerator adds a voice-controlled door and a giant screen that turns transparent when you tap it, so you can see inside without opening the door. Why? Why not? More interesting, perhaps, is why these things have never really taken off. I’m sure some of you actually have a connected fridge in your kitchen, but does anyone else really care?

"After trying out HomeKit lamps, I'm not sure we want appliances connected to the internet," IT security expert and tech CTO Martin Algesten told Lifewire via Twitter. "Very disappointed."

Privacy

How often do you replace your refrigerator? Every decade? Put a computer in there, and you make it much more upgradeable. Perhaps you can get people to buy new versions as often as they switch phones, or at least as often as they buy new laptops.

Also, an internet-connected fridge is an excellent source of data, which can be sold by an unscrupulous manufacturer. Back in 2015, when Samsung’s spy TVs were first outed, copyright activist Parker Higgins (then of the Electronic Frontier Foundation) compared them to the telescreens in Orwell’s 1984

"In the end, the Internet Fridge is still a cute gimmick, but one which is getting increasingly more plausible."

For a more amusing take on the privacy problems of smart-home devices, you might like the story of the touch-screen-equipped fridge in a U.K. department store last month, which had been navigated to PornHub, and left there, while still on display. 

Convenience

The promise of the internet fridge is that it will keep track of the food inside, and then either provide you a shopping list or even order replacements automatically. That always seemed like a crazy fantasy, but in these COVID days, online food shopping is quite normal. On the other hand, we spend so much time at home that we probably know exactly what’s in the refrigerator without even looking. 

Samsung’s Family Hub fridge can even show you the contents of the fridge on a screen mounted on the door, or on the screen of your phone. "It also helps track the expiration dates on food items in and outside the refrigerator. You can even use Bixby to assist with your food management," says the product page. Bixby is Samsung’s virtual assistant. Here are some voice commands it can accept:

  • Hi Bixby, find recipes with ingredients that are expiring soon.
  • Hi Bixby, add expired items from View Inside to Shopping List.
  • Hi Bixby, do I have (fill in the blank with a food item)?
Samsung Family Hub refrigerator.
Samsung

This could actually be useful if you’re not at home, but otherwise, it’s just easier to open the door. Especially with some of the tortured syntax you have to learn to use it. "Add expired items from View Inside?" Really?

Home Automation Hub

One place where the internet fridge might finally become useful is as a home-automation hub. Right now we use smart speakers as the central brains for home automation setups, but why not the fridge? After all, the kitchen is probably the place that you most often use voice command, to set cooking timers or to remind you to buy groceries later.

The refrigerator is also, if you believe the way characters behave on TV and in the movies, the first place anyone visits when they arrive home, so why not make it the center of everything. Finally, a refrigerator is always plugged in and switched on. 

In the end, the internet fridge is still a cute gimmick, but one that is getting increasingly more plausible, if only because we’re getting accustomed to everything being connected to the internet. On the other hand, you could save all the hassle with an iPad fridge-magnet mount.

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