Are Smart Home Devices Secure?

Imagine this. You’re at home having family dinner or a game night with your friends and you start talking about how your headphones broke and you are looking to get some new ones. The next day, you start to see ads for new headphones. Sound familiar? That’s because that smart home speaker you got last Christmas or for free with your Spotify Premium subscription is spying on you. 

Over the last few years, we have seen data surpass oil as the most valuable resource. Your phone, computer, and you guessed it, smart speakers are sending and sharing your data to advertisers and using them to better their business.

In the smart home/ smart speaker space, the largest competitors are Google, Amazon, Facebook, and Apple. All of these companies store your voice recordings for 6 months to an indefinite amount of time. Apple is the only device that automatically deletes voice recordings after 6 months by default. They also claim that the only reason voice recordings are stored is to improve Siri’s AI. 

Alexa, Stop Listening To Me

Regardless, these devices and companies keeping your data is never a good thing. We have seen instances where Google or Alexa sent a voice recording to a random contact or where a subpoena was issued for these devices’ voice recorder files. It’s like having a security microphone without you knowing it. These companies also claim that they only record after a “trigger” word is stated by the user. However, these devices are not perfect. Oftentimes, they seemingly turn on unprompted. You never know what could be recorded in that time frame.

Now maybe I am being paranoid or have a little conspiracy theorist in me, but is it really that far fetched? Most of us have no idea how much data these companies really collect on us. In this article, the author downloaded his Facebook and Google archives. Here is what he found.

Facebook collects:

  • All your sent messages
  • All your received messages
  • All of your phone contacts (yes not just your Facebook friends)
  • All of your text messages
  • All of your phone call records (not Facebook calls)
  • All your sent files
  • All your received files
  • Every time you sign into Facebook, and from where
  • And all the stickers you have ever sent (it’s just a joke at this stage)

Google Collects: 

  • All of your search history (regardless if it has been cleared from your browser)
  • All of your Google calendar events, and if you attended them (using your location to confirm your attendance)
  • Your location every time you turn on your phone, converting it into a timeline to show everywhere you have been for the last twelve months.
  • All of the images and files you have ever downloaded
  • Your Google fit information (steps, workouts, etc)
  • All of your stored photos, and metadata (where the picture was taken and when)
  • Every advertisement you’ve ever viewed or clicked on
  • Every app you’ve ever launched or used
  • Every app you’ve ever installed or searched for
  • All your YouTube history since the day you started using it

Privacy Much?

Now, your Facebook or Google smart speaker might seem like a small fish in this big pond of data collection, but your home should be your place of privacy. With your smart speaker in the vicinity, that privacy goes out the window. 

The writer of this Big Think article gave a not so distant reality that we may see in the near future. He said, 

“In an attempt to monetize every second of every day, everywhere, imagine this scene: You walk into a store, which has a deal with Amazon to track what items you regularly purchase. As you approach that department, the store checks in with Spotify to discover your most played songs. Since your spending habits are higher than other customers, the store’s soundtrack immediately updates to reflect your favorites. This little dopamine boost ensures an open wallet. To my awareness, this is not reality—yet. But it’s coming.” 

Big Think

So back to the question, is your smart home device secure? That really depends on how you define secure. If you don’t mind these data giants saving and using your voice records, preferences, and habits to improve their algorithm, then you would probably define them as secure. However, for the rest of us who don’t like the idea of a peeping tom constantly listening to us, they aren’t secure. 

Don’t worry though, there’s still hope. Closed-loop smart devices exist and can accomplish exactly what you’re wanting out of your smart devices and so. much. more. Ask us how you can get all the benefits of a smart device without losing your privacy.