Are Smart Speakers like Amazon’s Alexa a security issue or is it technology just trying to connect with the human being?

Technology is on the upscale with innovation and the way to truly create innovation is with data. Because how else will we know what people want or use technology for if there was no data to provide evidence? Ever wonder with this rise in technology innovation and tracking, specifically with Smart Speakers like Amazon’s Alexa, Google’s Home device, and Apple’s Homepod, that if our conversations are being tracked, if it for the greater good? Or is it to connect data for the technology to understand us individually, like human beings do when they learn something about you in everyday conversation.

Smart speaker devices, what even are they you may ask? Well these are the Amazon’s Alexa, Google Home, and Apple Homepods.

As a student getting a degree in Management Information Systems, planning to enter a career in the tech industry, I am very intrigued with technology, and all its ways of innovations. What really is intriguing now is being able to talk to our technology and have communication with them. Almost similar to human connectivity, however, it is a common topic to discuss the possibilities of technology causing a security warning. And in this blog post, I am going to present a new side of thinking of the way we interact with the Smart Speakers, and why they connect with us.

 Lets focus back on the idea that information that us technology users do not want shared, can get shared because there is always a way to track back our data. Specifically when talking to an Alexa for example, in order for the Smart Speaker to go into a server to get an IP address of the restaurant we want to know more information about through Alexa, Alexa needs to comprehend and remember that you are asking for that request. Which means that Smart Speakers like Alexa are recording the request you asked them to do.

~In the video below shows a demonstration that the setting on the Alexa Smart Speakers are always set to keep the recordings you have with the device.~
https://www.cnbc.com/video/2018/06/01/how-to-find-out-everything-amazon-echo-has-recorded-of-you.html

Truth is though, the Smart Speakers like Alexa and Google Homepods are recording you, but one they do not keep the data unless you say an encrypted word like “Alexa” or “Hey Google”. But especially when your device is starting to get to know you, like a new friend you met, you may not understand their “slang” and misinterpret certain words and their meanings.

~In the video link and article here a woman witnesses her Amazon Alexa record a private conversation she had with a friend and send it in an email to someone on the owners email contact list.~ https://money.cnn.com/2018/05/25/technology/amazon-alexa-stop-recording/index.html

The Security Argument: Was it on Purpose?

To answer the question, no I do not believe that the Smart Speaker knew it was not supposed to send the private conversation in an email to someone on the woman’s email list. Just like people, technology misunderstands people and can think your asking to do one thing instead of the other.

A random example in my everyday life is that I play water polo and do swim sets to warm-up with my team, sometimes I will misunderstand the swim-set my coach said for us to do, not knowing I misunderstood and he saw me doing backstroke instead of doing freestyle like the rest of the team.

Nobody’s perfect, and though technology may not have a swim set misunderstanding, unless it is water technology, (sorry bad joke).

But it does take time for technology to understand one’s language, just like a person we are first meeting.

For many people this is a scary thing to think about how technology collects this data on you, even when you speak to it, however, technology simply wants to connect with humans but since they do not have human brain capacity, Artificial Intelligence and algorithms are the key.

This world is driven by data, we talk about technological data, but what about the data we have everyday with the people we interact with in person? The people I know do not tell me their banking information with usernames and passwords, so why talk aloud to a Smart Speaker about it and do it in a more comfortable fashion, typing.

If you’re one who is concerned about possible hacking through your Smart Speaker, it appears that we have far less things to worry about.

In this article, former NSA member talks about the likelihood of someone hacking into your Google Home, Amazon Alexa, or Apple Homepod, and the chances are very slim.

Jake Williams tells Ali Montag from CNBC that

“‘What we’re talking about here is a lot of work,’ Williams tells CNBC Make It of hacking into a smart speaker. ‘[Would-be attackers] don’t care what you’re talking about at home, they’re looking to monetize data.”‘

Montag, Ali, “Former NSA privacy expert: Here’s how likely it is that your Amazon Echo will be hacked” CNBChttps://www.cnbc.com/2018/09/04/ex-nsa-privacy-expert-how-likely-your-amazon-echo-is-to-be-hacked.html

That means the work it takes for hackers to listen in often isn’t worth the information they might get, he says. It’s much more likely a scammer would target your banking information than try to take control of your smart speaker, and that is because most conversations one is having with one of the smart speaker devices is asking for simple tasks like what the weather is. Jake Williams continues to tell CNBC that

“While it is important to be conscious about your digital privacy, Williams says there are lots of areas you’re better off securing before worrying about your smart speaker’s vulnerabilities — at least when it comes to spying threats from hackers”.

Montag, Ali, “Former NSA privacy expert: Here’s how likely it is that your Amazon Echo will be hacked” CNBChttps://www.cnbc.com/2018/09/04/ex-nsa-privacy-expert-how-likely-your-amazon-echo-is-to-be-hacked.html

If one is really worried about having a hacker look into your Smart Speaker or nervous about it sending an accidental email to someone, there are features where you can unable the Smart Speaker to not have knowledge about your email list, according to the article How to make sure your Amazon Echo doesn’t send Secret Recordings by Heather Kelly from CNN Business.

In theory, if people feel that they are being violated more from devices like Amazon Alexa, then the company would change how much knowledge it can obtain. Truly I believe that these devices are made to try and understand human beings to help them with basic needs. A Microsoft product manager by the name of Darren Austin stated in his own blog post that

“‘Alexa’s broader success resides in its ability to alleviate the stresses of an overbooked life. It’s the companion that’s always ready to engage”‘.

Anders, George. “”Alexa Understand Me””, MIT Technology Review, https://www.technologyreview.com/s/608571/alexa-understand-me/

In the article “”Alexa, Understand Me”” by George Anders, where Darren Austin’s blog quote was mentioned in, we learn more of how Smart Speakers, specifically Amazon’s Alexa starts learning about our individuality by what we discuss with Alexa and how often we communicate with the device. The more and more the device learns about your interests and your use various language word framing, it learns your “slang” and becomes “more intelligent” to you.

An example George Anders provides in the article is about ask Alexa what is Adele’s first album, Alexa responds with 19, then you say “Play it”, Alexa just learned that “it” refers to the album 19. So when communication continues, maybe even after a short period of time, if you ask Alexa other questions mentioning that album like “when did it come out”, it will still realize that “it” from “Play it” command of the 19 album from the previous conversation (Anders).

“The more time Alexa spends with its users, the more data it collects to learn from, and the smarter it gets. With progress comes more opportunity, and the need for more manpower” (Anders).

Anders, George. “”Alexa Understand Me””, MIT Technology Review, https://www.technologyreview.com/s/608571/alexa-understand-me/

Overall, I believe that these smart home speakers are trying to better themselves, like they are programmed to do but need to understand the data they are receiving from you (the user) in order to take this request to the server and retrieve the information you are trying to get. And once you talk with the smart speaker more, it will start to recognize the different way you are questing the same information.

In conclusion, all issues and concerns with security are valid but the actuality of very important information being hacked from that device, is a minimum because all the Smart Speakers are trying to do is understand your basic needs.

Thank you for reading through my techy post! I think we should discuss more how technology is trying to connect more with people!

Logging out,

Helen

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