Voice Assistants and Smart Homes: Who’s watching and listening?

I have been reading articles across the Web over the last few months pertaining to connected home assistants, like Amazon’s Alexa and Google Home.  People are stirring up a range of emotions related to espionage and wiretapping.  It appears that everyone is concerned about willingly placing a wiretap in their home.  For a search giant, like Google, this is certainly a way to hear your every word and turn it into feedback for their search engine and these devices can be hacked or configured in ways that would be just like a wiretap.  However, my concern is not over people’s fear of having these devices in their homes as much as it is the lack of concern people have had for years with similar capabilities existing on their laptops and desktops.

Amazon introduces Amazon Alexa, Echo and the All-New Echo Dot at a product launch in London

When was the last time you saw a laptop without a camera and microphone?  We hear stories of hacking on the Internet on a daily basis.  We know that people can remotely access systems from across the Web just by utilizing bugs and exploits commonly promoted on the web.  There are even pre-built packages that make this sort of thing quite easy for the least experienced among us.  Packard Bell started selling “multimedia PCs” back in the 90’s which came with microphones and nice speakers.  Vendors have been selling webcams into homes for years, but it wasn’t until we started speaking directly to devices that people really became concerned.

I think part of the issue is that people are becoming more informed.  This is not necessarily truly being informed, but becoming somewhat knowledgeable about the possibility of people snooping on conversations without truly understanding the technology being used. Ignorance is rampant, and the average consumer has just enough information to be afraid.  Once again, I understand the dangers of having devices in our homes that constantly listening.  I also know that we have had cameras in our homes for years which can also be accessed remotely if someone really wanted to.  I think that we need to be careful as we talk to the average person about these dangers and really help them understand how these technologies work so that we are not just stirring up fear, but really educating consumers as to the facts about the dangers and how they can protect themselves.  As technology advances, and we begin to speak in plain English to our computers, we will begin to see things in a different way which is probably good.  We should not get comfortable just because our computers understand our voice commands as easily as our fingers pecking away at a keyboard.

What are your thoughts regarding smart home and assistant technology today?  Would you ever connect your home to the Internet?  I am interested in knowing if having Alexa in your home changes the conversations you might have or if it, at the very least, gives you pause knowing that someone is listening.  This is a new area of technology and it should stir up some conversation as we learn how to deal with having this new tech in our homes.  Our community wants to hear your opinion on the matter.

Author: Phil

Phil Williams is an engineer with around 20 years of information technology industry experience with past focus areas in security, performance, and compliance monitoring and reporting. Phil is a husband, father of 6 children, and an avid geek who loves building computers, gaming, and gadgets. He has an undergraduate degree in general IT sciences and has worked with the US Government as a contractor for over 20 years. He is now in a security solutions advisory role for a large vendor supporting commercial and enterprise customers.

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