Oh, Alexa! How we love having you around! The simple joy of having your own personal voice-activated assistants at home and potentially wherever you go is beyond awesome. That is why these assistants have become so popular and are consistently one of the most shopped devices on the market today. However, as their popularity has risen, so have concerns whether they can be used to spy on consumers and compromise their privacy.
What’s the Concern?
It is a well-known fact that big companies like Amazon and Google use their consumers’ data to provide targeted ads and supposedly enhance the user experience. It also a well-known fact that anyone who is concerned about their online privacy will read through the EULA carefully before accepting it. But as it stands, most of us don’t really bother going through all the legal stuff to know just how much of a privacy compromise we should expect.
Now, with Alexa and other personal assistants in our homes, the concern is growing even further. It has risen to the point where people are wondering if they can be used as listening devices and record vital information. What would happen if you spoke to your spouse and told them the PIN for your ATM or your credit card number? If Alexa picks it up (which it very well might, unless you switch off the forever listening mode) then isn’t it a likely possibility that there will be a major compromise of your personal financial security.
This is just one of the many things you need to watch out for when using Alexa or any other personal voice-activated assistant. With that in mind, let us look at some of the major issues that have recently been raised regarding Alexa and how you should tackle them.
What Are The Possibilities?
Did you know that your Alexa can now be turned into a pretty nifty spying device? That’s right! In a recent blog post by a noted cybersecurity company, they detailed how a simple physical tap into the device can literally make it the perfect device for listening in on your most private conversations.
We cannot even begin to grasp the ramifications of this and how useful this might be to any hacker trying to compromise the security of an individual. The only thing that makes this breach a slightly less likely possibility is the fact that the hacker will need to have physical access to the unit in order to turn it into a spying device. Once that is done, there is nothing to stop Alexa from recording all your personal conversations, storing them, and transmitting them to a third party that installed the bug.
It is to be noted however that this exploitable breach is only available in the 2015 and 2016 models. For the 2017 model, you have a mute button on top of the device which will ensure that no conversations are recorded. While you might think that leaving the mute button off is just harmless, remember that any recorded conversations can lead to big security leaks. Many luxury hotels now provide personal assistants in their select rooms. If you happen to be a business traveler, it will be wise to make sure no one is listening in on your private conversations through these devices.
If you have children in your home, make sure they don’t talk to the assistant in your absence. It’s possible for them to place an order for something and the item to get shipped to you in a couple of days. Though you might not have to pay for the thing, it is still a hassle that you should avoid.
When you are not actively using the Amazon Echo, you should simply turn it off. Also, it’s a good idea to tell your children not to mess around with the device. If they do not listen too well to you and are somewhat likely to sneak in a conversation with Alexa behind your back, simply toggle off the voice purchase option altogether. You can go to your Amazon account and find the ‘Manage my Device’ option, where you will most likely be able to find turn off the desired feature.
In the abovementioned device management option, you will also find a host of other options, like being able to delete search histories individually or together. This will help you avoid irksome targeted ads based on your search history and stop those pesky best deals right now offers from wasting your time.
Suppose you synced up your IoT devices to Alexa for the sake of easy operation. While that may seem like a great way to handle all your devices from one single interface, it is a gross undermining of your security and privacy. For instance, any security breach in your IoT devices can give a potential hacker access to vital information stored in Alexa. This means that your data could be at risk of being stolen or used against you. We already know how bad the security features on these supposed smart IoT devices are. There is no good reason to trust them with your security and privacy.
The best way to avoid this issue altogether is to simply not link up your devices and keep them separate from each other. If you are a privacy conscious individual, you should get a good VPN service provider, if you haven’t got one already. This will make sure that all the connections on your home network are encrypted and cannot be broken into by hackers.
There is no denying that Alexa and Echo are a huge help in many ways. However, knowing their shortfalls and ensuring that you stay covered no matter your level of use of these devices is extremely important.