Top Concerns of Smart Speaker Safety


Steve Kelly

6/5/20222 min read

There are a number of benefits for owning a smart speaker with each company having their own flavor of smart assistant: Amazon's Alexa, Google's Assistant, Apple's Siri, Microsoft's Cortana, and Yandex's Alice. Each smart assistant has a great number of abilities they can help everyday consumers with, such as playing music, answering questions, reading the news, or setting reminders for tasks we tend to forget during our busy lives.

What worries us the most about these smart speakers is the safety of our data, and whether this data is being used for the right reasons. The Washington Post reports in their article "Some smart speakers are a little too smart for their own good":

"Androids may not dream of electric sheep, but Alexa sleeps with one ear open, always listening for her “wake word.”"

You may have had a funny instance where you accidentally said "Alexa" referring to a friend, or perhaps your daughter is named Alexa, and you hear the chime from your smart speaker, sitting at attention ready for a command like a service member looking to fulfill an order from a higher-up. Amazon has been trying to get advertisers to report when their commercials are going to say Alexa or otherwise so that your smart speaker doesn't sound the alarm at a moment's notice. It's funny the first few times, but gets old when you really don't want to bug the sleeping beauty in cyberspace.

While this may not be a data safety violation, it has implications for one when more private moments are happening in the home and with your family.

The way your data is stored varies from device to device, which The-Ambient does a great job at explaining here. Briefly, they say:

"...each request passes through the respective company’s servers and may be stored there or used to build up an ad profile that determines the adverts you see online, or in apps."

While this works no different than say making a search on Google, or clicking on ads on Facebook, there seems to be a more personal touch when your smart devices are able to listen in on your conversations, gathering your vocal information, and later serving you tailored ads for what you said earlier in the week. We should be a little concerned about all of this, however, we live in the information age. Our data is another resource technology companies use to give us what we want, or rather, what we think we want.

This begs the question: are smart speakers always listening to your conversations?

The answer is yes, at least when they are powered on. However, they are not always recording your voice. They record your voice upon using the wake word tailed for your device, such as Alexa, Siri, Cortana, or whatever you may have set as the wake word for your device. A number of smart device owners believe they are constantly being recorded, but this is simply not the case.

Privacy concerns are important, and here are some recommendations to ensure your personal information does not get leaked in the case of a data breach:

  • Do not share credit card information over your smart speaker.

  • Do not share your social security number with your smart speaker

  • Be careful with what you are telling your smart speaker, we wouldn't want you to get blackmailed for that affair you had two years ago

  • Never give out others' personal identifying information

  • Always be weary about the conversations you have when the wake word is called for your smart device.

Safety concerns are great to keep in mind when you're an owner of these voice-assistants. As once was said: "With great power, comes great responsibility".