Alexa is listening; Tips for keeping your privacy safe

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Smart devices are transforming the world of technology, daily tasks like making a grocery list and turning off the lights are now effortless.

While the use of devices like Amazon’s Alexa, Google Home and now Apple’s HomePod are growing across the nation, they are also raising concerns about privacy.

For users like Mike Dixon, he is hands free from the the moment he starts his day. 

“I use it to listen to the news and then I use it to listen to talk radio or podcast while I’m getting ready for work or the day,” Dixon said. 

Dixon has an Echo Dot in almost every room in his house.

“They are pretty addicting because once you purchase the first one, you are going to keep getting them and now I have five of them,” Dixon said. 

So how do devices like these work?

East Tennessee State University Technology Instructor Stephen Hendrix said while there a number smart devices, they all work generally in the same way. 

“These are our smart devices that allow us to use voice commands and through artificial intelligence and through these different key words or triggers words through some action or activity,” Hendrix said.

Hendrix said these devices don’t wake up until they hear the key word such as “Alexa.” Once it hears the keyword, it starts recording and sends that audio file to a database to transmit and execute the command.

In a recent report by E-Marker, the number of users is growing annually at 47%. That’s faster than any technology product since Apple launched the iPhone.

However, when a woman in Portland had one of her private conversations recorded by an Amazon Alexa and sent to a contact in her phone, it shed some light on how protected users actually are.

Technology expert Anthony Lawrence said it’s incidents like this that raise concerns. 

“The average user has no clue what’s going on,” Lawrence said. “These companies can say ‘Oh we’re doing this and we’re doing that’ but in actuality something else is going on.”

So how can you protect your privacy while using these devices?

“Don’t have one through out your entire house, only have it in key locations for listening purposes,” Hendrix said. “Then you can always go on either the app or the website and you can actually review what commands you have sent and what audio was recorded with that.”

TIPS FOR KEEPING YOUR PRIVACY SAFE:

  • Keep a strong password for you Wifi
  • Don’t keep one of these devices in every room in your house
  • Delete previous commands from the device’s app
  • Be cautious of the third party vendors used with your device

However, for avid users like Dixon, who uses five Alexa’s including one in his car, he said he isn’t worried about privacy.

“I don’t have anything to hide as far as government for anything like that,” Dixon said. “Are they listening and transcribing what we say? Probably, but what are they going to hear me talking about a recipe in the kitchen?”

We reached out to Amazon to ask where these audio files are stored, a spokesperson for the company responded, “Voice recordings are stored until a customers chooses to delete them.”

Copyright 2018 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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