Do You Think Smart Speakers Can Be Trusted?

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One of the biggest trends right now in technology seems to be smart speakers, such as the Amazon Echo, the Google Home, and Apple’s HomePod. They can do and answer so much for us. But should we trust them?

They’re still an electronic device, and because you need to be able to converse with them, they have speakers and microphones. But that means potentially they can hear what you’re saying even when you’re not talking to them. Additionally, sometimes they may have unexpected situations, like with the HomePod, as it will allow just anyone to listen to your text messages.

We asked our writers, “Do you think smart speakers can be trusted?”

Miguel answers not at all, as “anything with a microphone connected to the Internet presents an eavesdropping risk, whether the manufacturer intended it that way or not.”

Fabio agrees with Miguel and believes “the speakers will try to gather as much information on you as possible.” He wouldn’t have one near him unless it was absolutely necessary.

Phil agrees that while they do provide some benefits, “the cost of that is that you will very gradually over time let go of parts of your personal privacy.” He notes they have to listen all the time to be able to provide context for their answers to your questions. And if that info is out there, it can be stolen or used in an unsavory way.

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Alex doubts that smart speakers are spying on users in a “Big Brother” type of way. He doesn’t think the current ones on the market do that, as “they would need to either transmit information every time someone speaks or record a massive amount of data and then upload gigs of data in spurts.” He doesn’t believe these devices have the technology that would be required to make long recordings, and they don’t upload large batches of data.

He supposes it would be possible for them to only listen for specific keywords and then upload just the data relating to that or create a summarized digest of conversations, but he doesn’t believe the current processing bandwidth would support that. The hardware in the Echo indicates that it only listens for “Alexa” or “Computer.” All that said, he admits that smart speakers do “creep me out a bit.”

Ryan understands the concern with regards to the “big-brother-is-watching-esque paranoia,” but he doesn’t really see an issue. With as much personal information as we give on a daily basis to Google, Facebook, and others, he finds it “hard to believe people are really afraid of their virtual assistants spying on them.” And if people are, he figures they’ve never read an end user agreement before.

I haven’t bought a smart speaker yet, but the reason I haven’t has nothing to do with not trusting them. I’m on my iPad all day long, and most things I would want available to me are anyway. But I tend to see it like Ryan. If someone wants my information badly enough, they already have the means to do so. That said, if I did have one, I’d be sure not to talk about certain things in front of it, such as financial information and account numbers and passwords, and I’d be sure to set it up so that there wouldn’t be incidentals, such as text messages being read by anybody who dares to ask for them.

Do you have a smart speaker? Are you worried about your privacy when you’re speaking near it? Does the Big Brother aspect worry you or do you feel it’s not really a big deal?

Do you think smart speakers can be trusted?

Image credit: Google Home device in front of closed blinds

One comment

  1. Alex needs to brush up on how microphones work.

    ““they would need to either transmit information every time someone speaks or record a massive amount of data and then upload gigs of data in spurts.” ”
    Not so, Alex. All they need to do is to transmit continuously. The mothership would have an algorithm that would sift through the mundane chaff and glean and record the information desired, discarding the rest.

    “The hardware in the Echo indicates that it only listens for “Alexa” or “Computer.””
    Sorry, Alex. It is the SOFTWARE that distinguishes the words “Alexa” and/or “Computer” from all others. The hardware by itself is dumb. Think of the speaker as the drain in the kitchen sink. All the drain has to do is to continuously funnel all liquids poured into the sink down the drain pipe. The software is the strainer in the drain that prevents food particles (keywords “Alexa” or “Computer” from going down the drain.

    An open mike (which a Smart Speaker is) transmits EVERY sound within its pickup range.

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