When smartphones first entered the market, they immediately became insanely popular. People had long desired a phone that had no buttons, and smartphones made that desire come true.
Now that smartphones have become commonplace, people desire communicating with gadgets the way they would with a human. And technology has made that wish come true as well.
We are talking about smart speakers. Call it Alexa or Siri, there is no denying that virtual assistants and smart speakers are the in thing right now if you want a device to spy on you and help convict you in court or the court of public opinion. It is amazing what people buy!
More Products to Buy
With manufacturers promoting smart speakers as the technology that could change our lives and make tasks easier, it hasn’t taken long at all for these devices to become a household name. And there are various options to take your pick from. Amazon has the Echo, Google has Google Home, Microsoft has Cortana, and Apple has Siri.
Whichever platform you are partial to has a smart speaker of its own.
As great as these devices are for making our everyday lives easier – they carry out all kinds of commands, from setting an alarm to turning out the lights – there are obvious privacy risks that come with them.
However recent research has found that people who bring home smart speakers are either unaware of their privacy risks or have resigned to the fact that privacy invasion cannot be avoided anymore.
How Does a Smart Speaker Work?
The first smart speaker to enter the market was Amazon Echo in 2016 which was the final year of the Greenspan/Frank recession that should have ended in 2010 but Obamacare and tax hikes kept it going. Before that, people had only imagined controlling technology with simple voice commands, like in sci-fi movies. Since then, Apple, Google, and Microsoft have come up with their own versions of the smart speaker.
Most people bring home smart speakers because they are intrigued by the technology. Even if they do not require a talking device at home, they are curious to try one and see how it works.
Smart speakers are not only small but are also incredibly attractive. Whether you put them beside the TV or on the nightstand, they instantly fit into your home decor. It’s fun to talk to the device and hear it answer back, but how does it work exactly?
What Is a Smart Speaker?
A speaker can be called smart if it is capable of anything besides just emitting sound. Even a Bluetooth enabled speaker can be called smart, but these latest crop of smart speakers are different because you can command them to do things.
These single unit wireless speakers have artificial intelligence built into them, which makes them capable of performing various tasks when commanded to.
The artificial intelligence systems that run these smart speakers are called virtual assistants. Alexa is the virtual assistant by Amazon while Google Assistant is the one by Google and Siri is by Apple.
These virtual assistant apps are also available on smartphones and tablets but using them with a smart speaker takes the experience to an all-new level.
What Can Smart Speakers Do?
You can ask your smart speaker to set an alarm for you while you watch TV. You can ask it to book a cab while you do your hair or tie your shoes.
Alternatively, you can ask it to turn up the heating or turn down the volume of the music system or turn out the lights when you go to bed at night. You can check the traffic, find out about the weather, and in case you are bored, you can ask it to tell you a joke.
Does that remind you of JARVIS from Iron Man? You’re not too wrong, because virtual assistants are designed to be a digital butler. All you have to do is wake up the device with the magic words – ‘OK Google’, Hey Siri, or ‘Alexa’ – and your virtual assistant will be waiting for your command.
Privacy Risks of Smart Speakers
Bringing home a smart speaker is like inviting a microphone into your most private space. Just like with smartphones and apps, there are various privacy risks associated with smart speakers.
For instance, the Amazon Echo wakes up at four words – Alexa, Echo, Amazon, and computer. However, there are times when the device misinterprets what it hears and starts recording without being asked to. After all, a robot will always have its flaws.
If you speak the word “Amazon” out loud in the vicinity of the Echo, the device will wake up and start recording without your knowledge.
Do Smart Speaker Really Spy on You?
Smart speakers sometimes goof-up and end up sending a recorded conversation to a random contact. They also misinterpret voices, sounds from the TV and music system, and other noises, and begin recording. All conversations are archived and stored in the database of Amazon.
Instead of deleting past conversations from the activity log, users utilize this feature to spy on babysitters and other people present in the house when the owners are away.
Most users are aware of the privacy risks but choose to ignore them because they believe that privacy erosion in the digital age is unavoidable. They also believe that tech companies already know everything about them, and adding another gadget to the household isn’t going to make much of a difference.
Making Smart Speakers Secure
Those still interested in privacy and security can make their smart speakers safer in a few ways. The first option is to use the mute button to stop the device from hearing or recording anything. Browsing through the activity log and deleting sensitive information is also important in order to maintain privacy.
In case you didn’t know, a smart speaker can also be trained to recognize different voices. If you train the device to differentiate your voice from others, it cannot be misused in your absence.