Voice Assistants are Listening – Here is what You Need to Know

by Nate Ryan

Voice Assistants are Listening – Here is what You Need to Know

Is Our Data Safe with Voice Assistants?

A whopping 61% of smart-assistant users say they’re concerned about their voice assistant listening to them in the background. That’s a lot of consumers. It’s easy to understand, especially if you have accidentally tripped your home assistant, and had the experience of Alexa asking out of the blue whether you need your laundry picked up. Oops. 

Unfortunately, Google, Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, and Samsung’s voice assistants do collect information about your contacts, location, and interactions. Voice assistants are built to listen in on your conversations. That’s how they operate. The truth is that your voice  assistant records and shares your information with their company every time you interact with them or even around them- sometimes without your knowledge. The technology used in these assistants is sensitive enough to work, and while it was developed for convenience, there’s no doubt that there is a price for that. Once again, consumers need to be educated in the technology in order to make the best decisions possible for their own digital safety and privacy needs. One family may feel comfortable with a high level of interaction, while another may decide that they are not willing to give up the private space needed. Hearing that sometimes even employees listen in, many consumers have become wary of installing them, while acknowledging they make life easier. 

So, while “False Accepts” are the primary cause of a voice assistant turning on and recording an interaction without you saying the activation phrase, devices do also record while people speak around them, and there is actually a lot more data collection than was originally disclosed. As consumers become more educated about data privacy, they express curiosity about how to handle their own data safely. Data security is becoming more of a priority, as well as a conversation nationally. 

So What Can We Do To Secure Our Voice Assistants? 

Well, there are different voice assistants already involved in our day to day lives. All smartphones come with voice assistants already embedded in the OS. These you cannot delete. However, you can disable them in settings. In regards to home voice assistants, you can always opt out of buying them altogether- but if you need them, you can limit their data collection. You can do this by hooking up only what is absolutely necessary for your needs, and protect it from all other users. Unless you want your children or guests to be able to shop Amazon, check who is linked to your Voice Assistants- and password protect features. This means that shopping will be limited to those who have the passwords, and limit what is connected to the voice assistant-most people only want to use voice assistants for one or two tasks. Be mindful, for example, whose emails  are linked-so that not everyone has access. Convenience is great, but it’s best to decide what can be sacrificed for privacy. Accidents can also happen, and understanding the TOS, and devices handbook will also help prevent misunderstandings when setting up the device.

Also, always check your voice assistant’s privacy policy-manufacturers do not want to lose consumer trust, so they are cognizant of how they treat data, and usually outline how data is handled, and who sees it. 

Changing your passwords often is also key-and the rookie mistake of using too easy a password is often a fail when people are looking to hack into devices. Put some thought into your password, make it a mix of upper and lower case letters, symbols, and change it every few months. Don’t use your birthday or anything commonly associated with you publicly. Don’t reuse passwords, because a hacker can always try to reuse passwords if he/she gets into one account using it. For more tips, check out this Password Checklist.

When you have Wi-Fi at home, and in use, for devices like a voice assistant, or even your smartphone, or various other devices-like your laptop-always secure your router. This is where your home base is, and it is where a lot of cybersecurity fails are in the home. 

Encrypt your network. Encryption end to end is the only way to truly secure data-essentially, encryption just scrambles everything, and makes it impossible to actually use your data, and is the truly gold standard of protection. You can call your provider, and ask how to set up encryption through your router, and they should be able to help you. And encrypting your router will also protect all your activity, not just your voice assistant. A unique password for Wi-Fi prevents non household members from accessing your personal network. Still having trouble? Contact the manufacturer directly.

Where Can I Find More Info On Data Privacy and Voice Assistants?

Ultimately, the goal is to protect all your devices. Just as hackers can get to your data through unsecured networks, they can also get to your network through unsecured devices. To find tips on locking down your devices, read about keeping your devices secure. The FTC has a lot of good information on data privacy, and tips on how to secure your devices and home. They also have hotlines and resources for people who need assistance. 

by Nate Ryan Nov 15, 2022