Public Interest

Privacy and Smart Speakers: Who’s Listening?

“Is someone out there listening to me?”  Ask yourself this question. It’s something we all need to consider. Consider your privacy in the digital age everyday.

Smart speakers are another way to open up your personal information to the world. This isn’t a surprise. Here’s who’s listening to you.

Who is listening?

The government

The government uses recordings as evidence to crimes. Google and Amazon both only record after trigger commands (“Alexa” and “Echo” for Amazon, “Hey Google” and “OK Google” for Google) are repeated. Anything of suspicion recorded after these trigger commands could be turned over to authorities.

Data miners

Amazon and Google are open and honest about using data collected from the information that you provide to your smart speakers for targeted advertising. Neither company will sell your information to other companies, but their combined influence on the internet is impossible to avoid.

Interestingly enough, the Apple HomePod does not record or store your data. Other Siri devices, such as iPhones, don’t either. All of the data provided is encrypted and unusable by Apple or any other advertisers. Because of this, Apple leads the way in consumer privacy.

Hackers

Are intruders tapping into your speakers and listening to you? This will always be a possibility with any internet-connected device. In regards to today’s smart speakers, this is an unlikely scenario. These speakers have been hacked in research environments, but there are no real world examples of this.

Take these steps to improve your privacy.

Mute buttons/toggles

Each speaker has mute button or toggle switch. You should mute your speakers that are only used to play music. Also consider doing this if you only use your speakers for certain occasions. It can always be turned back on when you need it.

Account association 

When you set up your smart speakers, the smart speaker applications give you the option to link all of your different online accounts to the device. Only connect the account you need to use with the smart speaker, disconnect the accounts that you don’t need.

Delete saved interactions

Both Google and Amazon allow you to log onto your account and delete your saved interactions with the smart devices. Make it a point to log in every so often to delete interaction history.

Summary

Over the past year, I’ve gone from having one smart speaker to having them throughout my home.  Is there are certain amount of privacy lost by doing this? Yes, there is. But in my opinion, the benefits make it all worth it. Is is something that keeps me up at night? Absolutely not.

Being targeted by hackers is an unrealistic fear. I’m not planning on telling my smart speaker anything that the government would be concerned about. In addition to that, I’ve already become very accustomed to targeted advertising – as has anyone with a Gmail account or Facebook profile.

Are you concerned about smart speaker privacy? You should consider looking at the Apple HomePod. Smart speaker users should be always aware of privacy concerns. Don’t let those concerns stop them from building the smart home that they desire.

I am a husband, father, and tech enthusiast living in Saratoga County, New York. I have spent the past 10 years (and counting!) honing my technical skills traveling the United States as a technical specialist for a software company out of Albany, NY. In addition to that, I've spent the past two and a half years implementing affordable smart home solutions in my home.

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