Voice Assistants

What you need to know:

Voice assistants and smart speakers will save audio recordings of you once you’ve said the wake word. These recordings can be accessible to networks of listeners at these companies that listen to and transcribe recordings in order to continually teach and upgrade the listening capabilities of these devices. These recordings are generally described as “anonymous”, however if addresses, names or other identifiers are mentioned in the recordings, it can be used to identify you. 

In addition to recordings, if you use your device to purchase items, play music or ask for movie times, that data will be collected. Furthermore, if your device is connected to other smart devices around the home, it’s likely also collecting data points from them.

Your data collected from these devices can be used by product designers to improve the product and for the device to offer personalized tips, but it can also be used to inform targeted advertising. Audio data can make it easier for artificial intelligence to approximate data points like age, gender, emotions and interest. Coupled with the already massive troves of data that these big tech companies have, adding in audio data will only further enhance their understanding of you and your interests.

Finally, beyond the device manufacturer, governments and law enforcement have in many cases successfully obtained and used recordings and other collected data for investigations.

Learn More:

Overview of data collected on voice assistant and smart speaker devices and how it can be used

Story on how voice assistant manufacturers have utilized human listeners and how it made one Amazon contractor very uncomfortable

One news organization listened to more than a thousand recording excerpts from Google– see what they found

How Alexa keep transcripts even after users deleted them

How Amazon and Google want other smart devices to share continuous streams of information to their voice assistant hubs

Device manufacturers on sharing your data with governments

A curious way to stop Alex from snooping

What to do:

See this guide here for how to maximize privacy for Amazon Echo and Google Home, the two most popular devices.