For many, including your author, voice assistants are the stuff of science fiction fantasy and geeky convenience. There is a real satisfaction to be able to control appliances, equipment, ask for information, send communications, all without lifting a finger.
In my case, I enjoy controlling strategic lights to prevent missteps in dimly lit parts of the house, especially during long northern winters. Turning the television on and off and controlling the volume is the height of coach “potato-ism.” Who cares if
the remote has gone missing…again? And, my cell phone links into my vehicle so I can text and call by voice interactions and stay much safer than using my hands.
So, voice interactivity with the internet of things (IoT) brings with it amazing capabilities and possibilities. Convenience for sure and for those suffering from physical handicaps, access to information and services they could not reach before. It all sounds like a dream come true.
Unfortunately, the dreams can turn dark when the manufacturer of the voice assistants abuses the trust they have built and takes advantage of access to the conversations and actions of their customers. Amazon’s Alexa was hacked and turned into a spy gadget as we reported in a blog post back in May 2018. The company also had been keeping everything users said to their Alexa in a database for future. Eventually, they provided a way to purge your Alexa history due to the dust-up over privacy.
With all the attention to data breaches, invasion of personal privacy, and so forth, you’d think the big companies might have gotten the message. Evidently, they haven’t, as a recent report by the Belgian company VRT shows. According to the report, Google employees and contractors listen to recordings of Dutch customers. And, they are hearing a lot of stuff they shouldn’t. Conversations of a personal or sensitive nature.
They do what? Yes, they listen to recordings of their customers using the Google Home speaker and Google Assistant mobile app. VRT was able to listen to over 1000 recordings. By listening to some recordings, they could easily identify the person or people involved. They then contacted them to confirm that it was their voice. The people contacted we understandably dismayed to find out their conversations had been recorded and subsequently listened to by Google employees.
Google has tried to explain it all away. Their reasoning is this, they have to listen to these conversations to improve the software algorithms to make the voice technology more responsive and accurate. Before crying foul that all your conversations and commands are recorded and stored, you should know that Google does point the practice out in their user agreement. However, they do not say that employees and third parties can listen to the recordings.
Conversations are supposedly made anonymous by replacing names with a serial number. However, just listening to the recording can reveal names, addresses, phone numbers, details of business deals, medical information, financial information, and more. This is a serious breach of privacy and individual security.
The bottom line is this, Google’s voice products record everything you say to them. Unfortunately, they also record things when the software hears something close to the, “Okay Google,” command or the app/speaker is accidentally activated. The opportunity for misuse is just as big for Google as it was for Amazon.
A quick search of how to erase your recordings came back with lots of hits. Not having Google Home, I resorted to the keyboard. C|Net has an article on how to eradicate your recorded conversations. In our digital, IoT world, information is power. Your data and conversations are valuable to companies as they work to provide a better product or service.
It is vital to have control over that data. With the links in this article, you can tackle both your Alexa and Google voice histories. A quick search for erasing Siri conversations did not return any results, but this article covers the steps to turn off recording for the top five voice assistants; Google, Alexa, Siri, Cortana, and Samsung.
Voice technology is fantastic and can provide significant benefits. It can also be used for less noble purposes. Always take the time to understand the risks and use technology wisely. Skudo is dedicated to protecting information and making the world safer. Check us out and implement your own safety measures.