When your dental insurer sends you a "free" Internet of Shit toothbrush

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2018/04/15/brusha-brusha-citizen.html


Did anyone else think of building a Lego Mindstorms machine to manipulate the spy-brush continuously?


And wait for the increasingly panicked emails, “Please, for the love of god, stop brushing while you still have enamel!”


When we crunched the numbers, dental insurance was not worth it for our family. Then again, when we crunched the numbers, neither was health insurance.


It never is, until someone gets sick.


No…but I’m thinking about it now!


“I read an interesting forum post last night,” my electric toothbrush told me over its low burr.
“Thiff ouff thew be thood,” I said through my mouth of foam.

“It was!” he replied. “Using readily available components, Monkeymonkey turned his Intellibrush into a milk frother.”

I spit into the sink and set my toothbrush in its white ceramic charger. “What would I do with a milk frother?”

“Make cappucinos,” my toothbrush said, with a hint of resignation, as I rinsed and spit again.

“I don’t drink cappucinos,” I said.

“You could start!”


I’m starting to think the Borg began with IoT devices.


Also, if you pair the brush to the app, you will earn a Beam score that can translate into savings on policy premiums over time!

Sooner or later, Beam score will be merged into a general civic score, and people who don’t brush won’t be allowed to fly. Ummm, tempting.




Insufficient likes for this high level of insight.


Sounds like overkill. Do you think their device to app Bluetooth security is any better than the vibrator or talking kids’ toy?

Turn a Raspberry Pi into a toothbrush simulator.

Next up: Drive-by war brushing!

This app has access to:



approximate location (network-based)
precise location (GPS and network-based)


read the contents of your USB storage
modify or delete the contents of your USB storage


read the contents of your USB storage
modify or delete the contents of your USB storage


receive data from Internet
view network connections
pair with Bluetooth devices
access Bluetooth settings
full network access
run at startup
control vibration
prevent device from sleeping
read Google service configuration

Access to location? That would be fun to spoof. “A number of our app users appear to be living in a secret base on the Moon.” (German names for the bonus.)

The big question is, why does my toothbrush need to know where it is?


Yeah, same here. Thanks to drinking from the Ogallala aquifer during a sustained drought as my permanent teeth were coming in, I have the classic Colorado Brown Stain. . It gives you a F#@%ed-up lookin’ grill, but you have a much lower incidence of cavities, and the ones you get are marginal. The steel hook doesn’t stick in them, it just scoots right off.

My mom and my sister are hypochondriacs, so they have health insurance. Most of the rest of my immediate family skips it, just because we look at them and don’t want to pay for their imaginary ailments. Also, I love to yank peoples’ chain about cancer:

Them: “You don’t have health insurance? What if you get cancer?”
Me: “My family is so genetically blessed, we don’t get cancer or Alzheimer’s or worry about retirement. We drop dead of heart attacks before we get the chance.”


Unfortunately, dentists have gotten into the practice of marking up their cash pay prices to give discounts to insurers, just like MDs and hosptials. This is one of the many insidious parts of our regressive healthcare system.


Imaginary ailments? Hypochondria is real.


About five years ago, I burned through 3 car insurers before I found one that normally insures farm vehicles. The ‘normal’ car insurers wouldn’t believe me when I told them my car was built before the USB format was even invented. They kept mailing me the IoT tattletales, then sending me threatening letters about how they could tell it wasn’t plugged in, and then they’d finally give up and tell me I couldn’t be insured by them. THEY KNEW MY CAR WAS A '96!

…I need to get into an car insurance pool for the kind of people who are always wearing out their shoes, because anything less than at least a mile isn’t worth firing up the car.


This is one of the more paranoid articles I’ve seen in a while on here, and that’s saying something.

“Is there a microphone in my toothbrush? I don’t know! I know I could check inside, but I’d rather just be afraid of it constantly!”

“Is my insurance company using this data? I have no idea! I haven’t actually tried to find out! But the concept makes me terrified, so here’s an article about it!”




Unfortunately, it takes only a limited excursion into lawful evil(when writing up the policies) and either neutral evil or chaotic (when interpreting them) to make health insurance pretty useless even then.

I’ve certainly not seen the the worst of it(given that I’m neither dead nor bankrupt as yet); but there is…room for flexibility…when the game is “give your money to the guys who write and interpret the rules on when you are eligible to get money back; hope for the best”. (Naturally, Serious Economists treat ‘moral hazard’ as something policyholders inflict on insurers by gobbling up that delicious ‘free’ medical care(because we all like needles and side effects, right; rather than the obvious temptation on the insurer’s side to just take the premiums and tell you to fuck off).

Aside from the limitations you can legally sneak into policies; the massive structural advantage of the insurer is that they already have your money, so they win as long as they aren’t actually forced to reimburse anything; and it is relatively elementary to build a byzantine bureaucratic-defense-in-depth apparatus that keeps you tangled in the phone trees(quite inexpensive per hour, especially if you only get human for a small fraction of the time); with opaque denials and ‘appeals’ if you do get beyond those.

I had one delightful situation where it took over a year to obtain pre-authorization for a procedure(despite the agreement of all doctors consulted that it was the correct approach and approximately a decade worth of treatment records); by which time the insurer had changed which hospitals were in-network and rendered the exercise moot. With experience gained from that round, the next try only took 6ish months; followed by another 4 months of trying to figure out why, despite the pre-authorization, the insurer had mysteriously declined to cover certain aspects of the process(despite covering most others of the same type, just a few chosen apparently at random were declined).

Now that that fiasco is out of the way I’ve been beating my head against a blank wall as to why the insurer is, without comment, just not covering some prescriptions(curiously, the one that has been off patent for ages).

Unless you have copious time and some knowledge of the process; or specialist assistance, preventing an insurer from just fucking with you is frustratingly difficult.

This is obviously a worse situation than one where insurance actually worked; but given the fun I’ve had getting an insurer to cover some not-actually-all-that-expensive stuff I’m sympathetic to the perspective of people who see “pay your premiums; still go bankrupt if you get cancer or something” as a worse option than “don’t pay premiums, go bankrupt if you get cancer or something”.


The more I think about it, the more sense it makes. The Borg are almost always defeated by exploiting their abysmal network security.