Are Smart Home Devices Outsmarting Privacy?

Shhh… your smart device is listening

 
Are Smart Home Devices Outsmarting Privacy?
Image Credit: cameroncford.com

“This is so sad Alexa, play Despacito”

As the nth meme pops up on my screen I’m this close to actually smashing my phone because the meme was funny for perhaps the first ten thousand times it appeared on my timeline but at this point it is being stretched too far. But you know what else is related to Alexa and is not funny anymore? Privacy concerns.

Over the years, as virtual reality has exponentially taken over our lives with each passing day, data security and privacy has become a pressing issue, which is not only limited to enterprises or organizations today but in the lives of individuals as well. Now you might think that you are an open book and your privacy is not that much of an issue to be at the threat of invasion, I have some news for you Susan. It is actually quite important to guard your privacy from the intensely spreading on virtual network throughout the world.

As cool as smart devices are, they might be looking for triggers
As cool as smart devices are, they might be looking for triggers

Image Credit: pcmag.com

Before you ask me what does privacy invasion have to do with smart home devices, let me give you some food for thought. As of now, we have three main smart home devices in the market, the Amazon Echo, the Apple Homepod and the Google Home. Apart from controlling other smart gadgets that have been linked with them, these virtual assistants can amuse you with jokes and trivia, read you a recipe while you cook or play the specific music you ask them to. But for them to do all that you will have to use the trigger words that these devices are programmed to respond to. Echo responds to “Alexa”, Google Home to “Okay Google” and Homepod to “Hey Siri”.

Pretty cool right? Unless you think about how there is essentially a microphone sitting right at the middle of your home, constantly listening to whatever you are saying, looking for a trigger! Which means you are technically paying a tech company to put you under surveillance. Even though Amazon, Google and Apple have assured that they are not spying on normal civilians, the problem is, these networks are easily hackable and very vulnerable to bugs. And what is the guarantee that the governments are not eavesdropping on your personal life and conversations either? Living in a country that is trying its hardest to push Aadhar, essentially a surveillance system on its citizens in the name of unique identification, I am mighty scared of how the bigger government agencies like NSA, CIA or the FBI might treat these smart devices and the loopholes in their security plan. After all these agencies are not really the most famous for minding their own business. And in case you think I am spending too much time watching Black Mirror (which I am, but that’s unrelated), last year when Gizmodo asked the FBI if they were wiretapping the Amazon Echo devices, they neither confirmed nor denied the accusations.

Let’s make smart devices a bad habit; they can be put to good use
Let’s make smart devices a bad habit; they can be put to good use

Image Credit: digitaltrends.com

I cannot force anyone to abandon technology based on accusations, observations and reports that I personally find concerning. All I’m saying is that maybe we can just look outside the window and assess how the weather is or put in that extra labour to tap on the screen to play our music rather than depending on Alexa, the virtual equivalent of an American wife in the 50s (and an Indian wife even today), for every little thing? Privacy aside, these habits might evolve the entire human race into some kind of a being that just breathes in oxygen and eats detergent because the whole species has a total of two brain cells left to function with.