Voice-activated, internet-connected personal assistants are all the rage these days. In a connected and digital global world, it is becoming increasingly difficult to protect your privacy.
One important concern when it comes to "smart home devices" is the degree to which they are listening. They obviously listen for any commands the user might utter, but what else is it taking in, and how could that put privacy at risk? The recent news that these devices - Amazon Echo, Google Home and Apple HomePod, which an increasing number of folks are using, use -- are listening to us all the time, and are recording personal and sometimes intimate details about our lives...a sample of which are listened to by humans to improve the software... should be concerning.
Security vendor, Sophos, reminds us that "those who choose to use this technology can’t and shouldn’t expect 100% privacy.
And remember, no matter if it is an Android or Apple phone or watch, if you have turned on any of those personal assistants are (e.g., "Hey Siri" or "Hey Google") then your Android phone & watch, or iPhone & Apple Watch are listening to everything and recording going on with and around you.
If not for the ability of Amazon Echo, Google Home and Apple HomePod to listen, these things would become nothing more than door-stoppers and paperweights."
There are certainly things users can do to limit the risk of unintended consequences. Here are just a few examples:
- Not currently using your home device or don't need the phone's digital assistant? Mute it or turn it off in the device settings The mute/unmute button for the Amazon Echo for example, is right on top of the device. The “always listening” microphone will shut off until you’re ready to turn it back on.
- Don’t connect sensitive accounts to your device On more than a few occasions, daisy chaining multiple accounts together has ended in tears for the user.
- Erase old recordings If you use an Echo for example, then surely you have an Amazon account. If you go on Amazon’s website and look under “Manage my device” there’s a handy dashboard where you can delete individual queries or clear the entire search history.
- Tighten those Google settings If you use Google Home, you’re already aware of the search giant’s appetite for data collection. But Google does offer tools to tighten things up. Like the Echo, Google Home has a mute button and a settings page online, where you can grant or take away various permissions.