Do You Know the Smart Devices Privacy Issues?
All technology has the potential for security and privacy concerns. Let’s investigate some of the potential privacy issues associated with smart devices.
More people are bringing smart technology into their home. The technology usually comes in the form of smart devices to help people save energy, monitor health problems, entertain the kids, and protect their property while they’re away.
All technology has the potential for security and privacy concerns, but the privacy issues are more obvious with certain types of devices like voice assistants.
Voice assistants such as the Amazon Echo or Google Home provide ways to integrate these smart solutions. They also dispense with the need for multiple controllers for an array of products. The devices integrate with other systems. So you can install Amazon’s Alexa within your SURE Universal remote to control the app – and your smart devices – using your voice.
But the devices also pose their own problems.
The voice assistants aren’t autonomous like Iron Man‘s Jarvis. But they are always listening, ready to pick up on any cues to swing into action. Google’s Home assistant, for example, wakes up when it hears “Okay, Google.”
Yet the “always listening” aspect of many devices leads some to worry about who else might be listening.
Let’s investigate some of the potential privacy issues associated with smart devices.
When Smart Devices Interfere
The technology is good enough to recognize voices. It can’t yet differentiate between voices or understand context.
In San Diego, a 6-year-old girl asked Alexa to get her a dollhouse. Alexa obliged, and TV station XETV-TDT picked the story up. When the anchor Jim Pattern repeated the line, “Alexa ordered me a dollhouse,” any devices within earshot of the TV ordered dollhouses for their owners.
Amazon noted that users could disable the voice ordering function to prevent accidental purchases.
These stories about smart device intervention grow more serious.
In a domestic dispute in New Mexico, the smart device called 911 after hearing a man ask his girlfriend if she’d called the sheriffs. Picking up on “call the sheriffs” as a command, rather than a question, the smart device did exactly that.
In 2015, police investigators gained access to Amazon Echo data as part of a murder inquiry. The defendant gave permission for the data to be handed over though Amazon attempted to use the First Amendment to block access.
It shows a potential life-saving use of the devices we bring into our homes. Frail elderly relatives can literally call out for help. Young children won’t need to know how to use the phone in an emergency – just their home assistant. Victims of crime can call on the evidence recorded by their devices.
But is it a situation to be welcomed?
The Privacy Problem
Despite the positive benefits, these stories make people worry about privacy. The devices are always listening. They need to. That’s how they function. But, there are concerns about who else might be listening, or using the data recorded by the devices.
Journalist Matt Novak submitted a Freedom of Information request to the FBI in March 2016. He wanted to know if the FBI had ever accessed an Amazon Echo.
“We can neither confirm nor deny…”
In January 2017, VoiceLabs predicted there would be 33 million voice assistants in circulation this year. That’s impressive, considering just 1.7 million shipped in 2015.
That’s a lot of potential eavesdropping and wiretapping. Consumers already carry microphones everywhere they go in the form of smartphones. The smart voice assistant is always on, always listening, and in the home.
At best, only advertisers will use the data from devices to tailor their advertising according to personal preferences. At worst, security agencies or even criminals could listen in to the daily routine in your home.
Where Do We Go From Here?
The worries around privacy are understandable. The likelihood of a governmental agency having the infrastructure, manpower, and storage facilities to record, analyze, and store thousands of hours of domestic conversations make general wiretapping seem a remote possibility.
The security of the devices when faced with botnets and hackers is a more pressing concern. The industry is already working on protocols to improve those issues. It’s likely that the industry will work to solve the privacy problem too.
Smart technology still has the power to change the world. We just have to use it properly.
Over to you – has the privacy problem stopped you from using smart devices?