Amazon recently announced that it has sold 100million Alexa enabled devices, while Google has quoted that there are one billion Google Assistant enabled devices, proving the popularity of the technology is showing no signs of slowing down.
However, it was recently revealed that Amazon staff have access to private recordings made on Alexa-abled devices, enabling them to listen to a range of things – from couples arguing about money to families discussing other personal issues.
This will not help alleviate concerns that smart devices, including Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant, can hear your every move or be hacked for information.
Kaspersky principal security researcher, David Emm, told the Mail Online: ‘All Amazon Alexa owners will likely be stunned by the news that Amazon employees can listen to intimate moments.
‘Time and time again recently these devices have hit the headlines for intruding on people’s privacy, so the question is, where does this end? These devices are meant to enhance our lives, not spy on us!’
Smart home devices are relatively cheap and can be purchased from £44.99 – and often cheaper, or given away, for example with a new phone contract.
This begs the question – why are big companies willing to sell the assistants for a low price point?
Laura Crombie, presenter of the Real Homes Show, an online TV show for home improvers, said: ‘Voice assistants are actually free and so the cost involved is in buying a smart speaker, such as the Amazon Echo or Google Home, to control them through in the home.
‘Smart speakers that pair with voice assistants are the most popular form of smart home tech in the UK, so financial gain is the primary objective in companies developing and selling them.
‘As they’re relatively low value items, the quantity sold needs to be large.’
“Unless you alter your settings, voice recordings are kept on the parent company’s servers for months or even years. As well as retail revenue, these companies are gaining your data to use for future research and development.”
Laura Crombie – Real Homes Show
Amazon has recently started advertising on Alexa-enabled devices leading to some people theorising that the giant is listening in order to tailor its advertising.
However, according to the companies, they only store the recordings to improve customer experience in the future, for example, studying different accents and the way we talk but some are still concerned about how their data is utilised.
Crombie added: ‘What a lot of people don’t realise is that, unless you alter your settings, your voice recordings are kept on the parent company’s servers for months or even years.
‘As well as the retail revenue, these companies are gaining your data to use for future research and development.’
Whatever your view on the matter, now is a good time as any to take responsibility for your privacy and put measures in place to minimise the risk of your home being hacked.
This is Money, with help from the Real Homes Show, has put together some top tips on how you can protect your privacy when using smart home technology.
1. Smart assistants like Google Assistant and Alexa record what you say after you wake them up and then keep your recordings on their server until you delete them.
You can put the devices on mute so they aren’t recording your voice, and you can wipe recordings by going to the apps and My Account tabs, and then tapping on the My Activity tab, where it will list how to delete manually and automatically.
Full instructions can be found online for each device.
2. Smart assistants also store your voice for development purposes. Amazon has a privacy dashboard where you can tell the company not to use your voice recordings in the future.
Click on ‘manage how your data improves Alexa’ and turn the toggles off.
Google is the only voice assistant that currently doesn’t store your voice forever. To turn off voice storage, go to Google’s Activity Controls and turn off ‘voice and audio activity’ and then click pause.
3. Consider your WiFi router as the main entrance to your home, which connects your smart gadgets to the outside world.
Like any front door it needs securing with locks and keys. In the router’s case it needs a strong password that is long and complicated and won’t give away any personal identification.
4. Use the most secure encryption method your router permits such as WPA2.
5. Never write down your passwords, use Keychain or Credential Manager to store passwords in an encrypted manner.
6. Even if you’ve chosen an unusual password that you can remember, it is definitely worth changing your password on a regular basis to ward off the hackers and over-zealous neighbours.
7. Ensure your router’s on-board software – or firmware – is constantly up to date by checking on its web page for automatic software updates and ensuring they have been completed.
8. Update your gadgets regularly by checking their apps for new installations or by asking your personal assistants like Alexa and Google Home if they have any updates pending.
9. Review each of your smart home gadgets’ security settings and apply a different password to every device.
10. The more you can personalise your security settings with face recognition, fingerprint ID, voice activation the better, as it will prevent other people accessing your personal information.
11. Don’t use unsecured devices to access your secured smart home tech. Using a computer without antivirus software installed or accessing a public computer makes your connected home vulnerable to malware.
12. Only buy smart home tech from reputable brands that you know and trust. Read online reviews and talk to your friends and colleagues about their positive experiences.
If you decide to plump for an unknown brand you risk the manufacturer going out of business and the product not being supported correctly, which includes your data being protected.