Amazon’s new and improved virtual assistant system Alexa is set to become another shade of creepy, with plans to record every conversation inside our homes.
Currently, the ever-helpful living room assistant and other similar smart home devices supposedly only listen and record their owners after using a voice command, known as a wake word, such as Hey Alexa, Hey Google, Hey Siri.
To overcome the barrier of some users forgetting to say the wake word, Amazon has announced the release of a patent workaround.
Put simply, the device will now be able to record everything the user says – all the time – to make sure it can always help.
“Instead a user may include the command before the wake word (for example, ‘Play some music, Alexa’ or even insert the wake word in the middle of a command,” Amazon said.
But it turns out it’s likely third parties have been listening in at all times within homes long before news of the patent this week.
Cybersecurity experts said Amazon, and the likes of Google, Apple and other third-party applications have been listening, and increasingly, watching.
“They record everything,” Cate Jerram from the University of Adelaide, who researches human cybersecurity and cybersafety, told The New Daily.
The cybersecurity expert said collecting data had become a “compulsive obsession” for tech giants, and Amazon was simply acknowledging what it had always done.
“This is a clever marketing strategy to expose themselves to the large-scale media for what has been written about by tech experts for years,” Dr Jerram said.
Users have already fallen foul to Alexa and creepy behaviour from other ‘smart devices’, including a woman from Portland, Oregon, who was contacted by her husband’s co-worker after he received an audio recording of the couple chatting at home.
The details of that private conversation were never shared publicly, but The New Daily has cobbled together a list of some of the creepiest devices on the market.
The popular Google Home has been found to track its users through its connected app and share data with third parties for unexpected reasons, according to a privacy report released by internet browser Mozilla.
Like other smart speaker devices, the Google Home policy leaves the possibility for the user’s information to be shared and then used to market or advertise to customers.
Some sage advice from Dr Jerram: Spend some time reading the “reams” of terms and conditions, or at least ‘Google it’.
Actually, she said it was best to use other search engines such as DuckDuckGo or Firefox that don’t track your every move.
“People need to be aware of the dangers of anything that has the capacity for recording,” Dr Jerram said.
“It’s not just Alexa, it’s all [smart devices],” adding research showed online purchases jumped following the installation of a smart device in the home.
From board games, rubber duckies and teddy bears, play things of all descriptions are increasingly connected to the internet via wi-fi, bluetooth and apps.
Depending on the capabilities, many toys are also enabled to record voice messages, internet history, location data and online data storage.
Smart soft toys, CloudPets, in the form of teddies, kittens and bunny rabbits that let adults and children remotely record messages, were found to be publicly accessible, exposing voice messages.
The leak also concerned experts, who said parents often used their children’s names and birthdates when creating passwords.
Dr Jerram said any device that allowed the transfer of data over a network without human-to-human or human-to-computer interaction, was a security issue and “hackable”.
“Toys, kid toys, adult toys, drones, if there’s an electronic system, it’s hackable,” she said.
She also warned hackers could intervene and hack a doll or teddy bear and ask questions such as, “When is Daddy coming home?”
“Don’t buy a teddy bear that talks to them [kids].”
The ‘smart’ baby monitor
Smart baby monitors essentially operate like a CCTV camera for the cot to help mums and dads keep another watchful eye on their little ones.
But some monitors, including the FREDI baby monitor ranked “super creepy” by Mozilla, have been found to not use encryption, and have a history of being hacked.
RMIT Associate Professor Mark Gregory told The New Daily devices inside people’s homes, capable of recording audio [or video], needed to ensure all content captured remained in the home.
“The thought of what people are doing in their homes ending up in the public domain should be a concern for government and individuals,” Professor Gregory said.
“Once [information is] out there, it’s never coming back.”
He also warned against smart TVs, with enabled video camera and microphones, in the bedroom.
“For me it’s mind-boggling. We’re quickly moving to a situation where we’re giving away our privacy,” he said.