If I were to tell you that I was going to enter your home, use an antenna to spy on your personal web browsing, and block your access to apps, email, or your entire Internet connection at will, you’d probably call the cops.
But in the hands of a startup called Circle, which recently teamed up with Disney’s Consumer Products and Interactive Division? That same technology becomes a tempting, accessible design solution to monitor and control your family’s screen time.
Available today, Circle is a $99 cube that you set up in your home. It joins your existing Wi-Fi network, and uses a classic hacking technique called ARP spoofing to pose as your family’s phones, tablets, and laptops, monitoring their activity and, if necessary, blocking it.
That sounds scary, yes! In fact, a Department of Defense network security engineer helped build the thing. But on the front end, it’s all Disney magic, with a simple set of profiles, timers and toggles that allow you to do things like restrict play to just the educational apps or kill all Internet access at bedtime. As an added bonus, Circle comes with some bundled Disney content, too.
Circle speaks to a trend. More and more, we’re seeing complicated networking protocols and equipment simplified for domestic use. Google’s OnHub not only eschews the the typical router-box design; it gives you the ability to prioritize your Netflix stream over your web browser without ever understanding what an IP or MAC address is. But what’s actually a bit strange is that we’re seeing so many new products in this space now, at least a decade after your grandma got her first wireless router.
And in that regard, products like Circle, or OnHub, or Eero will serve as a fascinating case study for the electronics industry. We all know good design can make a hit product. But will it matter when we’ve already settled for the generally lousy experience of home networks—the equivalent of intermittently room-temperature digital plumbing? Maybe not, when companies like Netgear or Cisco—or the white label vendors who make routers for cable and DSL providers—can just stick the best design ideas into their popular, bargain bin routers before the upstarts get momentum.