What Data are Voice Assistants Collecting and How to Protect Yourself
Our modern homes are filled with smart devices. We have Siri, Cortana, Bixby, Alexa, a plethora of smart voices ready to serve us from our pockets to our televisions. Smart speakers and connected thermostats – everything is "smart" nowadays.
All this smart-tech raises some questions though, namely, just how secure these connected electronics are. In order to understand how safe we are or aren't, let's take a look at various aspects of the tech surrounding our smart home assistants.
Who's got the data?
Every smart device in your home is not only there to serve you, but it's also largely there to collect data. Whether that data is used to optimize your home's function or whether it's used to turn a greater profit for the company who made it, that's not really up to you.
Every smart voice assistant like Echo or Google Home collects and stores your voice recordings so they can get smarter in the future. These recordings can be used to add new features too, like learning slang in people's communications or understanding more complex questions from users.
Essentially, the company that creates your smart device owns the data it collects. You relinquish control by utilizing the device, meaning that using a smart assistant means being okay with someone else collecting your data.
It's estimated that by 2023 there will be 7.4 Billion voice-controlled devices out in the world, meaning we're practically always going to be surrounded by these data-collecting machines. Crazy.
What dirt do smart devices have on you?
Other than simple voice recordings, when you connect other apps and smart devices to your smart assistant, they get that data too. For example, several robot vacuum brands can be controlled by voice assistants and these robot vacuums function by creating maps of the house. This means that through association, your smart assistant even has access to the layout of your home.
A map of your home seems like the most ominous bit of information these assistants collect. However, even more mundane information like when you turn up the heat or when you lock your doors can be paired together to develop an entire profile of you, the user.
All of this data is, in theory, fine if it is only being used for research purposes, but the security of this data comes into question.
How is your data used?
Google and Amazon, the two main smart assistant leaders, recognize that data from smart devices are used to serve you better. This means things like automatic reminders to set the alarm or simply not to forget your schedule for the day. Your data is used to develop newer better features and serve you better, but to a larger degree, it's fed into a big data pool which is ever so powerful in the modern data-driven world.
Big data, or rather the collection of massive amounts of data that can then be processed with AI, is the biggest commodity in tech right now. Smart device manufacturers benefit significantly from having massive amounts of data collected on users so they can use it to gain deeper insights for new innovations.
It's also possible that the data Google or Amazon has on you might be used for advertising in the future. That means, if you're in the kitchen talking about how hard it is to make a certain meal, you might get targeted ads for a new appliance that solves your exact issue.
All that said, recent backlash and security threats to smart assistant data has caused companies to get more serious about what they do with your data. Google and Apple allow users to delete their voice recording history and opt-out of sharing the recordings for device improvement. Microsoft and Amazon now have clearer disclosures and policies towards customers. However, the only way to ensure proper data integrity is to maintain public pressure on these large technology companies for transparency.
Can you protect yourself?
Unfortunately, protecting yourself from smart speaker data breaches largely means just not using these smart devices. If you're truly concerned about the possible threats, then you likely should stay away from smart assistants and devices entirely.
However, if you maintain a close eye on which devices you choose to use, know what you can opt into and out of, and understand how your data is used, you'll be safer than the average consumer.