Smart Things versus Privacy

Since the dawn of Internet of things, the tech giants have brought us a wave of new products that fit every nook of our homelife. Among the most revolutionary are smart speakers. Each device is activated by a wake word (“Alexa”, “Hey Siri”, “Ok Google”, “Hey Cortana”) after which it listens for a command or question: “…what’s the weather like tomorrow?” “Order more paper towels”, ” play classical radio on Apple music” “Turn on the lights” are just a few of the types of commands these virtual assistants will answer to. According to Techcrunch.com on a report by Juniper Research, 55% of U.S. households are expected to have a smart speaker. That is 70 million households with a device with microphones capable of capturing sound across a home!

Amazon brought us the Echo lineup, Google brought us Google Home, and Microsoft and Apple recently stepped into the smart speaker world with the Harmon Kardon Invoke smart speaker powered by Microsoft’s Cortana, and Apple’s recently announced HomePod powered by Apple’s Siri. The products function as speakers that can listen for commands, and execute applications and activate other smart home devices.

Amazon Echo 2 is Amazon’s hardware answer for their virtual assistant Alexa. powered by Amazon cloud services (image from Amazon.com)

With this newfound convenience there are concerns about privacy. Google recently revealed that a flaw in the design of the Google Home mini was causing it to record conversations without activation by the wake word. When privacy flaws emerge it does make the average consumer more hesitant to adopt such a powerful device. After all these are devices that were designed to control the rest of the smart things we install in our homes including smart locks, cloud security cameras, and smart thermostats.

Google Home Mini, powered by Google Assistant (Image from store.Google.com)

The concerns many people face today with smart speakers are similar to the concerns we faced at the dawn of cellular phones and in a new wave with smartphones. Suspicions of government or corporate spying on our day to day lives became a concern for some and subject of debate. Since that time, new protocols have been implemented to assure autonomy in personal phone use. Apple encrypts text message conversations in iMessage, and Snapchat launched encrypted picture communications.

 

Apple HomePod, powered by Apple’s Siri (image from Apple.com)

Based on this history, we can expect a similar evolution to occur as smart things begin to integrate more and more into our daily lives and privacy becomes a weightier concern. already, strides have been made in the programming of these devices to answer privacy concerns Microsoft’s Cortana saves personal data it collects locally to a computer rather than to the cloud in a place called Cortana’s Notebook. If a user chooses to sync data to the cloud, Microsoft provides a highly secure 2 factor authentication on personal accounts. Users can edit or remove data stored there at any time. Apple programmed Siri to hold the personal data it collects encrypted in iCloud storage, so you control what data Apple retains for use of Siri. Google’s privacy site allows you to delete your search history either by voice assistant or by text from Google’s servers at privacy.google.com, all encrypted and secured by your Google account. Amazon has made it clear they wish to prevent exploitation of their users by banning repugnant ads from the Alexa platform .

Harmon Kardon Invoke powered by Microsoft Cortana, (image from PCMag.com)

 

Every company producing Smart speakers has a strong privacy policy and each can be found below:

Apple:

https://www.apple.com/privacy/

Google:

https://privacy.google.com/

Microsoft:

https://privacy.microsoft.com/en-us/windows-10-cortana-and-privacy

Amazon:

https://www.amazon.com/gp/help/customer/display.html?nodeId=468496

 

 

 

 

Sources:

https://www.privacyrights.org/consumer-guides/privacy-age-smartphone

http://money.cnn.com/2017/10/11/technology/google-home-mini-security-flaw/index.html

Voice-enabled smart speakers to reach 55% of U.S. households by 2022, says report

 

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