Useful Security and Privacy Tips for Google Home and Amazon Echo Users

Google Home and Amazon Echo are some of the most promising technologies we have today. After smartphones, they are the next big avenues for voice assistants. And they are useful devices to have around, whether to check on the weather or to order a pizza or a taxi.

But it can also feel a little frightening to have a smart device in your house that is always listening. What does it do with the information it collects? Or where does that information go? As with all Internet of Things (IoT) devices, it’s imperative to give security precedence.

So where do these devices stand with regards to privacy and online security? Read on to learn how your Amazon Echo or Google Home is subjecting you to security risks, and how to mitigate these risks.

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Most consumers are likely unaware that they’re in possession of an always “eavesdropping” piece of artificial intelligence hardware in their homes. But the cybersecurity criminals are cognizant of this fact and are working overtime to exploit every security vulnerability.

Generally, smart devices like Amazon Echo and Google Home are only supposed to “listen” after hearing their wake-words. Once activated, they listen and send the recordings over an encrypted connection to backend servers. That’s, of course, if the device is not faulty (or hacked).

Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. Multiple consumer reports have been filed about voice-activated devices spying on everything. In one case, a reviewer from AndroidPolice reported that Google Home Mini was listening and recording even when he hadn’t said the wake phrase call.

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In a statement Google acknowledged that some of their smart speakers were listening too much to what their owners were saying. The bug has since been fixed through a software update. Nevertheless, this shows how these voice-activated speakers could technically be used to listen in and record even sensitive information that could compromise your online security if it lands in the wrong hands.

Speaking of privacy, Amazon has already witnessed its Alexa system subpoenaed to a court of law to provide evidence in a murder case. Arkansas police recently demanded Amazon hand over confidential information collected from the Echo of a murder suspect.

While Amazon is at liberty to refuse to hand over such data in a bid to protect consumers’ confidential information, the real problem is yet to be addressed: Why is all that data still sitting in Amazon’s servers? Even though the data is securely transmitted, should consumers trust that Amazon’s servers are impenetrable? All these questions raise security concerns over the use of voice-controlled speakers.

The biggest risk of all is that another person can use your smart speaker to make a purchase without your consent. In Amazon Echo this feature is enabled by default, although you can choose a four-digit password or disable it if need be. There are numerous reports of children ordering toys via Alexa without their parent’s knowledge.

To prevent accidental shopping, Alexa will ask you to confirm the purchase. It becomes easy to carry on because you only need to verify with your voice. But it’s not all bad; there are measures you can take to mitigate these risks.

Don’t expect 100% privacy if you use Google Home or Amazon Echo. However, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get the most from your voice-activated speaker. Here are some measures you can take to limit the incidences of unintended consequences.

  • Don’t test the functionality of your device with sensitive information. Any online accounts that deal with sensitive data or money should be kept far away from the reach of any voice-enabled devices.
  • Delete old recordings. With Google Home this should be easy because Google stores all your data in one place. To delete your old conversations, go to the “My Activity” settings in your Google account settings and select “Delete All.” If you own an Echo, go to “Manage my Device” in the Amazon website. You’ll find an option to delete individual queries or clear the entire history in the dashboard.
  • Not currently using your Google Home or Amazon Echo? Mute it. Both devices come with a physical mute feature which can turn off the always-listening microphone. For Echo you can even configure it to produce an end tone which should alert you of when it stops listening.
  • Tighten your Google settings. It’s no secret that Google has a huge appetite for data collection. However, it also provides many tools to tighten your online security. For example, you can disable “personal results” from displaying.
  • If you use Echo, disable “purchase by voice.” This should help you avoid unwanted purchases.

Google Home and Amazon Echo have revolutionized the way we do things, and their functionalities are getting better every day. However, as the consumer interest in AI and voice assistants grow, the market becomes more attractive, making it a lucrative target for cybercriminals.

As such, it’s imperative to be extra careful with the kind of information you share with these voice assistants. Although the above measures may not prevent the voice assistants from collecting and analyzing your personal data, they can help to enhance your privacy and online security. Also, check our review article on Amazon Echo vs. Google Home.

What’s your take on the privacy of Google Home and Amazon Echo? Let us hear your thoughts in the comments section below.

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