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Privacy Concerns of Smart Speakers

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Smart speakers have exploded onto the market, with Amazon and Google being a driving force behind making them commonplace items in our households. The Amazon Echo powered by smart AI Alexa has become a hot selling item for people who want to have an all-in-one smart speaker. They have even released a few smart speakers that have screens and camera, so you can make video calls. Google has also released a line of smart speakers that have become wildly popular. These devices can play your music, read you a news report, tell you the weather, or even call you an Uber. There’s no doubt that they are incredible devices capable of doing some amazing things, but many question just how intrusive they are when it comes to your privacy.

Smart speakers are “always on”, meaning the internal microphones are always listening for a command from you. While this allows them to do all the great things they do, it is also draws up questions of what is being done with that data. It’s been shown that many consumers are uneasy at the fact that they’re being watched, listened to, or tracked by devices that they’ve placed in their homes. Whenever you speak a command to your smart speaker, it is picked up by the microphones and then relayed to a command server that will process and formulate a response. The audio clip is then stored on that server, and it isn’t clear how long that data stays on the servers. One of the problems users are faced with it is that now we have willingly allowed an always listening device into our homes, that gives these massive corporations unprecedented access to our private lives.

Last October, Google admitted that their Google Home devices were eavesdropping on its users. Tech blogger Artem Russakovskii discovered a bug in the software used by these devices that showed that they were saving audio recordings when the wake word “OK Google” wasn’t used. Smart speakers typically use a wake word to indicate to the speaker that a command is going to be made, which prompts the device to record the audio, which is then sent to servers. A Google Spokesperson issued a statement regarding the discovery, saying, “We take user privacy and product quality concerns very seriously. Although we only received a few reports of this issue, we want people to have complete peace of mind while using Google Home Mini.”

Digital security firm Symantec recently released a paper regarding the harm that can be done by hackers who have compromised your smart speakers. These devices are capable of carrying out a wide range of commands, especially when they are connected to your smart appliances or even locks that can be controlled digitally. They said “the range of activities that can be carried out by these speakers means that a hacker, or even just a mischief-minded friend or neighbor, could cause havoc if they gained access.” If you have enabled the purchasing option that is available on Amazon speakers, hackers could even make purchases with your linked Prime account.

Smart speakers are a new and exciting technology that gives us the ability of having our very own digital assistants. However, there are still privacy concerns that need to be addressed and understood more thoroughly in order to protect consumers.

Avid writer and reader with a curious mind. I'm always looking to get the most out of life! Follow me on Twitter @whatsaschoon

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