Alex Cranz Finds a "Digital Ghost" Lurking in Her Brother's Newly-Purchased Smart Home

Picking up a house with smart appliances already fitted may sound like a time saver, but the lived experience can be anything but.

Technology journalist Alex Cranz has written of an unexpected experience with a smart home whose original owner had departed the premises — leaving behind a digital ghost haunting the current occupants.

"My brother and his wife got a house. He mentioned it appeared to have a lot of tech installed by the last owner. I told him that was an exciting mystery for the two of us," Cranz writes, for The Verge, by way of introduction to the unexpected experience. "Whatever speakers and weird smart home junk had been set up, we’d be able to repurpose. But then he moved in. Slowly, over weeks of tech support calls and hours digging through shockingly deep coat closets, we learned that while the old owner was gone, his digital ghost remained."

Smart technology left behind by the home's previous owner included a Google Nest Wifi setup with camera and smart thermostat, motorized window shades, and a range of wall switches many of which were still attempting to control devices that had been removed. At midnight, the heating system would come on at full-blast; at dawn and dusk, the window shades would open and close respectively — whether or not the current owner wanted them to.

Some investigative work revealed the need to add a Zigbee and Z-Wave hub to get the smart lights back up and running, and that many of the remaining problems were due to the closure of Insteon — a smart home company the previous owner had apparently relied upon prior to its bankruptcy and the shuttering of its cloud servers.

Sadly, that proved the sting in the tail: Cranz' brother was unwilling to bend over backwards to figure out how to switch the now-useless hub over the local use through manual scripting using an outdated Java app running on a desktop, and was equally displeased at the thought of purchasing a revamped hub from the reborn Insteon — purchased from bankruptcy by fans of the company's products and relaunched — and forking over more for a monthly subscription to a service that has already upped and vanished once before.

"This is the state of home ownership in 2024! People have been making their homes smart with off-the-shelf parts for well over a decade now," Cranz concludes. "Sometimes they sell those homes, and the new homeowners find themselves mired in troubleshooting when they should be trying to pick out wall colors."

The full article has been published on The Verge.

Gareth Halfacree
Freelance journalist, technical author, hacker, tinkerer, erstwhile sysadmin. For hire:
Latest articles
Sponsored articles
Related articles
Latest articles
Read more
Related articles