In recent years, voice assistants have become a huge part of the modern home, Amazon’s Alexa being one of the most popular choices. With Apple®’s voice assistant Siri released in 2011 and Amazon’s Alexa released in 2014, the world has been able to experience nearly a full decade of help from voice assistants. From figuring out what outfit is appropriate after asking Alexa for the forecast, to creating a reminder to pay a bill on time, there’s no doubt that voice assistants have enhanced our lives.
Perhaps your home is full of voice assistant devices. You might have an Alexa device in your kitchen and use it as a timer, reminder, and food ordering system. You may also keep one in the bedroom or living area to play music and to set alarms. And we haven’t even talked about your smartphone and the likelihood that it stays by your side so many hours of the day, meaning you, like so many people all over the world, are surrounded by voice assistants. We would be naïve not to recognize Siri, Google Assistant, and Alexa dangers due to these devices’ prevalence in our lives and the stories of users that have had negative experiences with this AI software.
Voice assistants are always listening. So, how safe is our privacy? Several news stories have surfaced over the years regarding privacy breaches by our handy voice assistants. In 2018, a Portland couple’s conversation transcript was sent to the husband’s employee in Seattle. While this was a harmless conversation about hardwood floors, the outcome could have certainly looked very different depending on the conversation Alexa captured. Yet even with stories such as these, people are still purchasing voice assistants at a prodigious rate. According to recent statistics published in The Atlantic, “by 2021, there will be almost as many personal-assistant bots on the planet as people.”
Those numbers may seem staggering, but there is also plenty of data to support that your voice assistant intentionally picks up several of your daily conversations, purchases and experiences, and sometimes does so inadvertently, too. Due to the non-human nature of these AI devices, there is constant room for improvement and fine-tuning of the services it provides. While developers work to help eliminate the software’s gaps in understanding human speech and improve the device’s function, this process requires staff to listen to audio clips from commands and conversations the devices pick up in people’s homes. From there, they take notes and collect data regarding their assigned clip in order to improve how the system responds. This means, unfortunately, that many intimate parts of our home conversations are at the disposal of these companies. Even if companies such as these claim to take customer privacy and security very seriously, it’s challenging to truly understand the depth of information gathered about our behavioral patterns and conversations.
Tips to keep your information safe
We’ve compiled a list of simple steps you can take to help keep your information safe and give you more control over the voice assistants in your home.
1. Put your Alexa device on “mute” when it is not in use. Doing so prohibits the device from picking up any commands and conversations you have during the day. When you need something, simply unmute and proceed as usual.
2. Disable your smartphone’s voice assistant. Depending on the type of smartphone you own, this might be a good option for you. Go to your Settings and find your voice assistant options to prevent it from always picking up your information on the go.
3. Move your voice assistants away from windows. Taking this step can prevent hackers from having easy access to your private information from the outside. Consider placing your device out of reach from the sun and out of sight to the outside world.
Voice assistants are a wonderful tool to enhance any smart home, but there are certainly risks that come with having these devices on and around you at all times. Consider taking these simple steps to help you navigate the ever-changing landscape of voice assistants. For more recommendations on other topics such as these, join the conversation on Facebook.