Are Smart Home Devices Secure?

Date Posted:

December 12, 2019

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Imagine you’re at home enjoying family dinner or game night with friends. You mention that your headphones recently broke and you need to buy a new pair. 

The next day, you start seeing ads for headphones. Sound familiar?

Many people have similar stories where they feel as if their phones, TVs, computers and other smart gadgets are spying on them. And that’s mostly because, well, it’s true. 

Are My Devices Spying on Me?

Over the past few years, data has surpassed oil as the most valuable resource

Your mobile phone, computer and even smart speakers are sending and sharing your data to advertisers who leverage it to gain sales and grow their profits. 

Specifically in the smart speaker space, companies store recordings of your voice for at least six months. It’s usually far longer than that. And the largest competitors doing this are Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple. 

Apple products are the only devices that have a six-month default for deleting voice recordings. The company claims it stores these recordings only to improve Siri’s artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities. 

Alexa, Stop Listening to Me

Apple stands by its six-month deletion, but you may still feel uncomfortable that devices are storing and analyzing your data. 

There are instances where Google and Alexa send voice recordings to a random contact — a traumatizing situation for most people to imagine. There are also times when subpoenas are issued for the voice files on devices. This is similar to having a wire on you without any control over when you can remove it or turn it off. 

Further, these competitor companies claim that the device owner speaks specific trigger words that prompt the recordings to start. Other times, the recordings are seemingly unprompted. 

Essentially, you can’t know for certain when you are and are not being recorded, so there’s no way to tailor what you speak openly about. 

[Related: How Home Automation Is Transforming the Rental Industry]

How Much Data Do Facebook and Google Collect?

Most of us have no idea how much personal data these companies collect. 

Dylan Curran, a web developer and multimedia designer, asked Facebook and Google for all the information they had on him. This is what he found in their archive.

What Facebook Collects 

  • All the Facebook messages you send and receive
  • Your Facebook and phone contacts
  • All the text messages you send and receive
  • Your phone call records (not Facebook calls)
  • All your sent and received files
  • Time and location stamps for every time you sign into Facebook
  • All the Facebook stickers you’ve ever sent

What Google Collects 

  • Your entire search history (regardless of whether you’ve cleared it from your browser)
  • Your Google calendar events and whether you attended them (using your location stamp to confirm attendance) 
  • Your location whenever your phone is on (Google then converts that information into a 12-month timeline displaying everywhere you’ve been within that time frame)
  • All the files and images you’ve downloaded, regardless of whether you’ve deleted them
  • Your Google Fit data, such as number of steps and distance completed
  • All your photos with attached metadata (when and where the pictures were taken)
  • Every advertisement you’ve ever viewed or clicked
  • Every app you’ve ever searched for, installed, launched and used
  • Your entire YouTube search and watch history since the first day you used it

How Much Privacy Do We Really Have? Money Over Data

Your Facebook or Google smart speaker might seem like a small fish in a big pond of data collection. But your privacy is nonexistent around it, whether you’re in the comfort of your home or somewhere else. 

This is unsettling for most people because we assume we have privacy when we’re at home. 

An article from Big Think brought forward a not-so-distant, Sims-like reality when it comes to companies monetizing our personal information: 

“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.”

Derek Beres, media expert and contributing writer at Big Think

The big question we want to know is whether our smart gadgets are secure. But that answer isn’t as simple as a yes or no because it depends on how you define “secure.” Our reference point for “secure” is certainly much different than it was 10 — or even five — years ago. 

If you don’t mind data giants saving your voice records, location stamps, workout habits and more to improve their algorithms and help you find the things you like online, then you’re probably more lax on how you view security. 

But for folks who aren’t keen on companies taking their personal information without vocal consent, then no, devices aren’t secure. But there are ways to make them less intrusive so you don’t feel like your privacy is completely nonexistent, especially in your home.  

[Related: Why You Should Work With a Contractor and Architect Early on in Your AV Project]

Contact AV Smart Solutions for Closed-Loop Smart Devices

Fortunately, there’s hope. 

Closed-loop devices exist and can accomplish exactly what you want out of your smart home devices. And while it’s a great first step, you have many more opportunities to create an entire system of secure smart devices in your home. 

You just need to find the right people to help you set up and install your devices so you can get all the benefits of a custom smart home without jeopardizing your privacy. Contact AV Smart Solutions to get started on your secure smart home by calling (425) 655-5052 or completing our inquiry form


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