Beware of your smart home device, it could be profiling you
Published Tuesday, January 15, 2019 3:25PM AST
Last Updated Tuesday, January 15, 2019 3:36PM AST
You're not alone, if you, or someone you loved, bought into the smart home device craze over the holidays.
Three weeks after Christmas you might be saying to yourself “what did I do without you Google – or Alexa.”
But have you ever asked “hey, Google, can we actually talk in private?”
“The most important thing to zero in on is that, after you say those words that audio is stored, and it is stored until you go and delete it,” said cybersecurity expert David Shipley.
So, that time you asked Alexa the answer to an embarrassingly easy trivia question, or added a medication to your shopping list. It’s stored.
What about the day you played the entire Rod Stewart album? Google or Alexa remember that, too.
Shipley warns these smart home devices have record all of that and store it on a server - until you go in and delete it.
“Why can't you commit to customers that three months after you asked to look up the Hunger Games DVD on Amazon Alexa, why aren't you deleting that data automatically?” Shipley said.
Shipley has a theory why these companies are making customers responsible for deleting this information.
“They want to profile you, they want that data, they want to see your trends,” Shipley said.
Google and Amazon tell CTV News, information is only recorded after the “wake word” is said, like “Google” or “Alexa.”
An Amazon spokesperson went on to say:
“Once the wake word is detected, we collect and use voice data in order to deliver and improve our services. This includes helping train Alexa to better understand natural language when you speak to her and provide you with the right response to your requests. Customers can review voice recordings associated with their account and delete those voice recordings one by one or all at once. We do not sell this information to others.”
A Google spokesperson said something similar:
“Google collects data that's meant to make our services faster, smarter, more relevant, and more useful to users. Google home learns over time to provide better and more personalized suggestions and answers. Google does not sell users' personal information to anyone.”
Each company said they take user's privacy very seriously.
In November, an Amazon Echo was at the centre of a double murder case in New Hampshire.
Prosecutors believed a device may have recorded a crime and Amazon was ordered to hand over any recordings that may have captured a double murder.
Some people are a bit skeptical.
“It's always on, so it's always going to be hearing commands, whether or not you’re talking to the machine,” said one Fredericton man.
Some say the more control we give them, the more dangerous they can be.
“They can control your house, like, your coffee machine, your lights, and they have access to everything in your phone so, it can actually get into your bank account is one of the things I'm worried about, if you do online banking,” said a Fredericton resident.
Another man said: “We brought it into our own homes, so we kind of did it to ourselves. There's really no one else to blame.”
It comes down to privacy versus convenience.
Apple, which makes the Hey Siri device, does automatically delete the recordings after a certain timeframe, Shipley says.
Neither Google nor Amazon answered the question when asked why their products don't do that - they repeated, instead, that their users can delete the recordings at any time.
Shipley reminds owners of these devices to do just that.
With files from CTV Atlantic’s Laura Brown.