You just got yourself a Google Home or an Amazon Echo and you can’t wait to start telling it to do a whole bunch of things, from shopping to looking up a picture of Prince Harry’s soon-to-be wife. But wait — this digital assistant is cool, but is it safe? Could it be spying on you?
Read the Policies
Google and Amazon clearly state in their security policies that their devices don’t really “listen” to our conversations. Instead, they listen in short bursts for a “wake up” keyword, like Alexa. If the keyword isn’t spoken, the device goes back to sleep, and any information gathered isn’t stored.
While there is some speculation that the devices are always listening and slowly trying to take over the world, there is general agreement that they’re pretty safe to have around the home.
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You Can Mute or Delete Your Personal Digital Assistant
If there is anything that you don’t want your digital assistant to hear, you can always hit the mute button. Of course, this can be counterproductive and would mean that you’d have to manually switch it on again when you’re ready to use it.
You can also delete your conversations, just as you do your browsing history. Again, this is not recommended. A home device learns from what you tell it, making it more responsive to you. However, if you’ve had incriminating — or just embarrassing — conversations that you don’t want anyone to get ahold of, deletion is always an option.
The key to not being worried about being hacked or listened in on is being smart. Sure, you should be able to say whatever you want in your own household.
But if you’re concerned about someone listening in, just be wise about what you say in front of your digital assistant.
You can never be too careful when talking about something private. Also, try not to mention certain personal information, like your social security number, passwords, and the like. Do so if you must, but know that this information may be stored for future use.
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Your Digital Assistant Can Be Hacked
It is important to remember that you can be hacked through any digital device, including the Google and Amazon devices. However, both companies claim that they work hard to make sure this doesn’t happen, and that they will frequently update their products and systems to ensure that you’re as safe as possible in your home.
If you plan on making purchases or sending private info through a digital assistant, you may want to delete or update it as often as possible. This will reduce the chances that you’ll be hacked. If, like me, you aren’t especially worried that your information will fall into the wrong hands, caution is still smart. We already do so much on our electronic devices that if someone wanted to hack you, he or she most likely could. Still, that doesn’t mean you should recklessly throw all of your info into the device.
Further Reading: Protect yourself against identity theft.
Google Home vs. Amazon Echo vs. Humans
Are digital assistants taking over? Do you need living or inanimate assistance? Which is the most cost-effective option? Use this helpful chart to find out:
It seems that there is little difference between the Echo and Google Home. Amazon Echo is slightly cheaper, but not by much. It can call you a Lyft, which is both scary and cool. Google Home follows your speech pattern and remembers what you just talked about so you don’t have to repeat yourself. (Cue in creepiness factor: Big Brother, anyone?)
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Of course, a human can do all of these things and more. Kayla Sloan, an experienced real-life virtual assistant, says that human counterparts “are able to use logic and emotion to help make decisions, which are things that robots can't do,” which is undeniably true. But can you tell them to shut up and not feel bad about it?