Smart speakers could leave you vulnerable
Smart speakers and digital assistants can be a great addition to your home or office but they could also put your privacy at risk and open you up to unauthorized access of some of your personal information.
The devices are always listening but it's not just artificial intelligence that's involved. Privacy concerns recently became an issue when it was revealed snippets of conversations were being listened to by humans.
Amazon, Apple and Google have all confirmed that they have teams to listen to recordings of people using voice commands and interfaces but the companies say they take steps to protect users' privacy.
That concerns Mark Rhee, who has five digital assistants in his house as well as young children.
"I'm concerned down the line when they start having conversations with friends and those conversations get recorded I wonder if that somehow impacts their privacy," said Rhee.
"They're constantly working to improve their AI by having both people listen to the recordings and also through machine learning and technology," said Bree Fowler, Consumer Reports tech editor.
Google announced a "global pause" to the practice of humans reviewing recordings and so did Apple.
Apple has said going forward it won't retain recordings by default and consumers can opt in to share. The snippets of conversation are not supposed to be able to identify you when they get analyzed but Get Connected Media's John Biehler isn't so sure.
"The problem is that, in your home, you might say something that would identify your location," Biehler said.
There are step you can take to increase your privacy and limit how much data you share.
Google Home and Amazon's Echo have mute buttons to turn off the listening feature and you can physically see if the device is in mute mode. Apple's HomePod does not have a mute button or any indicator to show it's been turned off. However, you can ask Siri to turn off the listening mode or go into the app settings to control it.
You can also limit what gets sent to the mothership for analysis. Echo now has a voice command feature which allows you tell it to delete voice recordings. Or you could do it on the app. Or you toggle off the Help Improve Amazon Services and Develop New Features in the privacy settings.
Google Home allows you to see the conversations that have been recorded as well and to delete them. Just tap the Account icon in the lower right of the Google Home app. Select My Activity and search by key word or date and delete individually or in groups.
And you can opt out of Voice and Audio Activity to prevent Google from using recordings to improve its technology. You can also turn it off in Alexa under Privacy, Manage How Your Data Improves Alexa.
These smart speakers also have voice command shopping features and it's a good idea to restrict who can use that. You can add a password or PIN to prevent unauthorized access.
"For me I turn those features off. You do that all through the app itself," explained Biehler.
Also, think about what other accounts are being linked, like email, calendar and so on. In Google, if you turn on personal results, it can look at your email, calendar, contacts and so on. If you can access it with voice command someone else in your room could too.
Consider setting up voice recognition and multi-user functions.
Remember, when you alter privacy settings you could be giving up some functionality of the device too.
When you're setting up the smart device, slow down and consider all that it's asking you to say "yes" to. Biehler says it's a lot easier to limit it at that time then to try to go back and find what you actually agreed to in order to turn it off.
And he says if you're really concerned about privacy you probably shouldn't have a smart speaker in your home at all.