Many of us have warmed up to the idea of having little devices like Alexa, Amazon Echo, and Google Home, in our living rooms. They’re a lot of fun to talk to, and they make our daily lives a little bit easier. But this smart technology has raised some privacy concerns. There’s no doubt that smart technology offers convenience, but it also has the potential to create some unexpected problems. This could be particularly true for someone who has recently separated from their partner.
That’s not to say that it isn’t is safe to have these devices in your home, but if you do choose to have them, there are some basic points you should keep in mind to ensure your privacy remains intact.
Alexa is ubiquitous; it’s always there when we need it, but it’s easy to forget it’s always there even when we don’t need it. All of these devices have (at the bare minimum) an account that can be accessed remotely, and a microphone to listen to you. Newer devices also have camera/video abilities, some have playback screens, and the list of things they can interact with or control is constantly growing.
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You might be asking, “What’s the problem? It’s not like I keep Alexa on all of the time.” The potential risks are less obvious. Take for example the “Drop In” feature available on some devices. This feature allows a pre-approved person to “drop in” and listen to or view a room through the device. If you and your former partner made it so you could drop in on each other, and you forget to revoke his or her access, they could still check in unexpectedly. Similarly, if you and your former partner shared an account, they could use it as a way to monitor your online activity. Things like purchases, times that you tend be home, etc. can be determined through the logs kept by some of these systems. In many cases, audio logs are kept on file (until deleted by a user) surrounding commands given audibly, so a review of those recordings could indicate if someone else was in the room at the time.
So what can we do to better safeguard ourselves in this new age of technology? Well, the best road to safety starts in our own home networks.
1. The main access point for an unauthorized person to monitor you electronically will almost always be your home network. In some cases, this may require you to make tough choices. For example, not all video game systems are compatible with higher level security protocols. Therefore, you may have to decide whether to allow a lower security level in order for online gaming to occur, or if you will switch to a higher security level, which will limit gaming but increase your resistance to potential security breaches. The newest and most secure protocol is WPA-3, and the most common is WPA-2. Any other settings that you see on your devices are lower than WPA-2, regardless of what acronym they use.
2. Change the keyword in your device to something other than Alexa. Try to pick something that is obscure, so that the device only wakes up when you want it to.
3. Review your contact list to make sure that only people you want to communicate with through the device are on it. Also, ensure that each person has the level of access that you want them to have.
4. If your partner has left the picture, review and change passwords, including your Amazon password. It doesn’t hurt to clean up old recordings that you don’t want to keep, either.
5. Finally, read every policy update that gets sent to you! Especially the 3rd party ones, because they will often contain notices about what security features have changed so that you can ensure your settings are up to date.
Just to be clear, the potential security risks of artificial assistant devices apply across the board (phones, tablets etc.) There is no perfect unit. Video game systems can easily be forgotten, but there have been instances where a parent in one home will not realize that the parent in the other home can hear them through the game console their child is using.
As technology takes up more space in our privates lives, we should make an effort to use devices safely, and be aware of the potential risks they pose. Most people will not use technology as a weapon, but it is not impossible to do so.