Many people argue that they will not allow a smart assistant or speaker into their home because they don’t want “Skynet” to access or record their private conversations. While this is a valid argument, I typically counter with the fact that your phone is already listening to you. Adding a little speaker to your home that can play music or help you turn on your lights when you have your hands full is not going to change that.
In fact, many people already think that Facebook is serving them ads based on conversations they have had with people in real life. Although Facebook has denied this repeatedly, it doesn’t change the fact that my husband had a conversation about a BBQ grill with a friend, and the next day was seeing ads for that same grill.
While I’m not entirely convinced that Facebook is listening to every conversation to help serve you ads, there are definitely some privacy concerns you will face when you implement smart assistants like Google, Alexa, and Siri… and for the 5 people who use it, Bixby.
It’s Always Listening
In order for a smart assistant to work, it needs to always be listening. However, this doesn’t mean that it is recording every conversation you have. Can you imagine how much data would need to be stored to record every conversation of every user across the world? That is an amount of data I don’t even think I can count. For programmers, it makes perfect sense. The device will listen for specific words and then react to those specific commands. It doesn’t need to record conversations in order to be able to react to the command given.
Can Sell Your Data
While the device might not be recording entire conversations on a regular basis, it is listening for specific keywords. If you say keywords that it is listening for, even if you aren’t aware that it is listening for them, it could trigger commands you don’t know about. It could be listening for specific brand names and let the brands know how many households are talking about them. It could listen for what TV shows, movies, or games you are watching and sell that data. It can also record data based on commands you have actually given it, like directions to a donut shop or bookstore. All of this data is typically used to serve you targeted ads. Advertisers want to put product in front of your face that you will actually want, so you will buy it!
Potential for Hacking
We all remember what it was like to pick up someone else’s baby monitor on our own monitor. A window into someone else’s world can just be too enticing! Especially if you have really interesting neighbors. Although there haven’t been many reports of people hacking smart speaker devices, people will find a way to hack the devices. When they do, they may be able to listen in through your device.
If you are concerned, you can turn it off
All of these privacy concerns aside, there are ways you can combat this. Many smart devices are being released with Alexa or Google Assistant built in like smoke detectors and kitchen appliances. If you are concerned about privacy from these devices, you can turn off the microphone. This gives you control over which devices actually have access to your verbal commands. However, once you start using verbal commands for things, you will want to be able to do it from every room in the house… ask me how I know.