OK Google, How Safe Are You Really?

Ok, Google

More and more people are implementing smart homes and including devices such as  Google Home and Amazon Alexa. Android and iOS devices also include assistant technology. Smart home assistants can help users by searching online, starting phone calls, ordering groceries, playing music and turning on devices all with a single spoken command.

Research into how people use Google or Alexa shows that people use it most for music, followed by the weather and asking for general information. Setting timers / reminders and asking for the news or jokes are also common.

Yet, the question remains, just how safe are these virtual assistants? After all, having a smart speaker in your home means there is always a microphone open in your house.

Safety Concerns Over Smart Speakers and Home Assistants

The whole purpose of the device it to have the microphone on, ready and waiting for you to say “Hey Siri” or “OK Google.” Once the device is triggered by your voice, the device records the command, sends the data to servers for processing to figure out its response.

Users can view the history of queries on their accounts but this prompts concerns that these mega-companies will use that information for financial gain. For example:

  • people talking about a holiday may start seeing related ads on their computers.
  • talking about the high price of electricity may prompt power company adverts on social media.
  • saying you are hungry might cause fast food adverts to appear on your phone.

People may also be able to hack into your home assistant to gain access to your personal information causing another concern. Those who allow devices to talk to their other smart devices, both inside your local network and / or across the internet, can also increase the vulnerability of your network.

As more and more features are added to these devices and their range of commands increases it is difficult to anticipate all the ways the assistant could prove too good a listener. In one case, a voice assistant recorded a private conversation and sent it to the users contacts list!

Steps to Help You Stay Secure with a Smart Speaker

So far there have been very few big privacy issues or data breaches reported. Nevertheless, if taking advantage of Alexa, Siri or Google, keep the following strategies in mind:

  1. Regularly clear your history: Don’t leave everything you have ever told it stored on the company server. The assistant will rel earn any commands you give it quickly.
  2. Connect with caution: It is great to be able to turn on the TV and dim the lights without leaving the comfort of your sofa but be wary of connecting your security or surveillance devices to your home assistant.
  3. Mute the microphone: Yes, it takes away one of the great benefits of these devices (by having it respond to commands as needed). But, turning off the microphone when it is not in use, stops it recording you without knowledge.
  4. Secure your network: Home assistants work by connecting to the Internet to execute the commands. Ensure your wireless network is password protected and change any of your network devices (eg routers, modems etc) default login details.

With a little effort you can gain convenience without worry.

Are you based in South Australia and want more questions answered about setting up a reliable smart speaker or any sort of automation device? We are here to help so please give us a call on: 08 8326 4364 or via email at support@dpcomputing.com.au.

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