Amazon Echo smart speakers have been a rather popular gift this holiday season. In a press release yesterday, Amazon revealed that the company sold 9 times more smart home devices than it did this time last year. Now millions of homes around the world have Echo’s AI assistant, Alexa, to cater to their needs.
The utility and novelty of smart home technology like Echo is undeniable. After all, who isn’t excited about the prospect of ordering pizza without having to lift a finger? However, it is important to recognize that this type of technology may undermine your privacy. With Echo’s aural interface, the device is always listening, just in case someone gives it a command. In other words, “Big Brother is watching you”.
Should You Be Worried?
It could very well be possible that Alexa is recording and storing every conversation in your home. However, Amazon claims otherwise. According to the company, Echo only streams/stores a fraction of a second of audio before it detects its “wake word”, along with the audio of the command itself. Since Alexa is powered by AI, “she” stores your command history to help make her “smarter”. That way, Alexa can better respond to your future commands. While Amazon’s reasoning behind storing your command data is sound, imagine what could go wrong if someone else gets access to that data?
Amazon does let you delete specific voice recordings in the Alexa App. You can also delete your entire Echo history on Amazon’s website. However, Amazon cautions against doing so, warning that deleting voice recordings “may degrade your Alexa experience”. On the flip side, Amazon is also seemingly dedicated to protecting its Echo customers’ privacy. The company is refusing to provide authorities with the Alexa data of a man accused of murder. Amazon defended its action, affirming that it will not allow data access to third parties “without a valid and binding legal demand”.
While this move sets precedent for future concerns about Echo data, user information is still vulnerable. Police claim that they eventually extracted information from the alleged murderer’s Echo device without Amazon’s help. Whose to say that others couldn’t easily do the same?