Is Alexa safe to use?
Many people would love to get an Alexa personal assistant but are afraid that it is a secret listening device for amazon or worse the C.I.A. Whenever there is a new technology there is a certain level of fear to be expected. Does anyone remember when camera phones first surfaced and everyone thought they were going to have a picture taken every few seconds? Or maybe you remember when Facebook started and the concerns over privacy then? So today I am going to have a look at whether Alexa is safe to use?
How does the Alexa device work
Essentially the device is rather simple really. It is a speaker with a microphone that is connected to the internet. The power of the cloud is what gives the device the “brains” and gives it the ability to listen to your questions. It then provides the assistance you require. For example if you want to listen to a song you will say Alexa play “insert name of song here”. It will then relay that instruction to a server, figure out what you wanted and then sends the result back to the speaker again.
Is there problems with it listening to me?
In order for this device to work it does have to listen and having an always on microphone is part of that. It would essentially be pretty useless without it. So what problems can occur with it listening?
Privacy is obviously a big issue now with huge companies holding vast amounts of data and to a degree most of us willingly allow it with the likes of Facebook. With these speakers though it adds another degree of privacy invasion. Our private conversations, our home life and this is supposed to be our last refuge of privacy. However that is no longer the case with these devices.
There has recently been a murder case where the police have requested the data held by an echo device in hopes that it will give them some information. Yes the Alexa device does require the keyword to actually listen to you but it can be triggered by T.V. radio and background chatter. There have also been stories where a parrot has ordered its own bird seed and had it delivered to the home. How true this is I don’t know but I must say it is one clever parrot.
A family were also talking about someone they were friends with in negative manner and the Alexa believed they wanted to call that person. Needless to say that person found out what they thought of them. These are small things that can go wrong but you also have the big companies that will hold this data and probably share it with third parties.
Any system no matter how amazing it is can always be hacked. It is an unfortunate part of the modern world and hackers do love to solve a puzzle. Alexa just like any other device can be hacked and used for the benefit of others or mischief of others as the case may be. The camera can have someone looking through them, perhaps it could also be used as a listening device. I am not sure how often this would happen and having this device for a couple of years I wasn’t aware of any issues.
How to protect myself?
So if you do already own one or are thinking about getting one what can you do to protect yourself and your loved ones? For starters you should use the normal common sense that you would use when going online in everyday situations. If you notice something strange, lock down your profiles. Change passwords where ever possible and look through your settings.
You can clear your data on the amazon account if you fancy and this can be done often as you like. Make sure you use a strong alpha numeric password with the often requested special character to make its that little more difficult. Go through your settings and make sure that the camera is turned off when you don’t require it. If you are not using your Echo then why not mute it? You can even mute them by asking them or you can tap the mute button on top.
You can also set up PIN protection or disable voice purchases to stop any accidents happening. Make sure you unlink the address book feature if you don’t need it as this can stop any secret listeners when you mention a name. It would also be a good idea to put the device in the correct placement in your home. Having it near a window could not only accidentally trigger when it hears passers-by but people wanting to have a little fun with you can even talk to it.
Should I really purchase one?
This is really down to every ones personal preference. I have friends that just cant get on with having one of these devices around the home. Others are cautious at first but then end up talking to it more than I do. For me however I love these devices and getting my first one was a science fiction movie come true. I now have several of them sprinkled round the house and have never had an issue with them besides a few weird glitches. Unfortunately the truth is that most of us now have smart phones which essentially have the same concerns. Most of us use a social network of some sort and browse the internet on a regular basis. Our digital footprints are growing and privacy is and always should be a matter of law and a human right. For now I am not really concerned! I am happy controlling my home and setting timers with my lovely smart speaker.
So we all know the concerns regarding privacy, the accidents that can and do happen along the way. Yes they can be embarrassing and they can cause trouble. You can mute the devices, clear your search history on it and protect yourselves within the settings. The devices are a wonderful addition to the home, they can be so entertaining and useful but my number one advice here is use your common sense. You know how to protect yourself on a daily basis online and if you just apply the same tactics here you should be on a safer road to a smart home.
Thanks for reading, please feel free to comment