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Is Your Smart Home Listening?

Get to Know Scott Augenbaum

Is Your Smart Home Listening: The Danger Behind Our So-Called Home Intelligence

My, how the world has changed. Gone are the days when we have to look up an answer to a question in an encyclopedia (Google it kids if you don’t know what those are). We don’t even have to physically type a question into search engines anymore, like Google (or remember Ask Jeeves?). With Alexa and Google Home staring at us, our virtual personal assistants complete these daunting tasks for us. We all know these fabulous little gadgets help us with weather forecasts, or by playing mood-setting music. Decades ago, Smart Homes were just something in the futuristic metropolis we saw on the Big Screen. That time is now here.

I brought this up to a good friend of mine and they told me I had to let go of all my paranoia and enjoy the rest of my life. Funny but true; I am not completely averse to new technology. I do use the app for my car, even knowing all the risks we spoke about in a previous post

Anytime you ask Alexa a question, your voice is sent to the great, big Amazon super-computer in the sky. This is where your request is processed, stored, answered and the command is fulfilled. Using artificial intelligence to capture your voice (and improve the quality of service), even Forbes states the device is always listening and processing your voice.

Let’s set the record straight. I have no expectation of privacy on the Internet and anything transaction-wise. Whether it be through email, text, website search or voice questions, our data is being stored and Big Brother (or whoever that is) has access to those records. Privacy advocates, reporters, and skeptical technology bloggers are always warning us of the concerns with having a device in your home or business that is always listening and waiting for your commands. The privacy concerns are legitimate and don’t bother me that much; however, I still will not use these devices. Honestly, I don’t feel comfortable with any device in my house having the possibility of recording anything I say. 

Business Insider reported that a couple in Portland, Oregon was shocked when their Alexa recorded a private conversation and sent it to someone in their contacts. Amazon explained this was caused when their Echo heard what it thought was the wake word, and somehow the Echo thought it was being told to send the message. 

I’d say this is sub-par artificial intelligence at best. 

Alexa is supposed to use a wake word, such as “Hey Alexa!” to start recording your inquiry. As anyone who uses one of these devices (or even Apple’s Siri) knows how many times she is triggered when you do not mean for it to happen. It’s as if I have another family member in the house!

Lastly, newer devices are using cameras and this opens an entirely new set of concerns. Am I saying don’t bring these devices into your home or business? Not necessarily, but I am saying that you should understand the risks associated with these devices. Do your quick research about the privacy settings and take the steps needed to keep these devices secured. 

Take back your Alexa with these simple steps:

  1. Go to the Privacy Settings 
  2. Opt-out by going to “Use Voice Recordings to Improve Amazon Services.” This feature allows Amazon to use all of your recordings to help improve services. 
  3. Secure your Amazon account with a strong unique password and implement two-factor authentication.  
  4. Be wary of any third party apps claiming to work with the Echo or Google device. 

As always, I hope I’m just turning on the lightbulb in your head when it comes to cybersecurity and the technology that can help or hinder us. Pay attention to downloads that coincide with Alexa. There was a recent story of a daily horoscope App that when turned on, sent all your information to a remote server controlled by cybercriminals. In another situation, a voice sounded similar to that of Echo tricked the user in giving up their password.

Remember the easiest way to gain access to an Echo is by gaining access to your Amazon Account. 

Your Amazon account has access to all of your recordings, cameras, as well as the ability to make fraudulent purchases. So not only do you have to worry about things being recorded, you still have a bank account and password information to safeguard. How exhausting!

I don’t care that Amazon can use all my recordings to improve their product. I do care that all my information is being stored somewhere. 

Can we live in harmony with this type of technology? If humans with bad-intent weren’t looming on the other side, I would say it’s possible. But there’s always someone out there, trying to make a profit from your everyday living. Don’t let them! Protect yourself and your family before you become the next cybercrime victim!

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