How & Why Smart Home Assistants Record Your Data

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In recent years, more users have started embracing products which fall under the Internet of Things (IoT) umbrella. Connected speakers like the Amazon Echo and Google Home are two of the most popular IoT gadgets on the market right now and not only because they work as advertised, but also because they offer a relatively cheap entry point to the world of Internet-enabled appliances infused with intelligent digital assistants. However, like many other digital products, these AI-powered assistants record and store quite a bit of their owners' data. While this naturally raises some privacy concerns among the general public, things aren't as grim as they may sound at first.

Namely, connected speakers aren't connected for the purpose of forwarding your personal data to malevolent third parties. No, they need to record you and send that data via an online connection so that they can work at all. The only reason why an incredibly advanced AI assistant is available for as little as $100, is because that same assistant isn't actually installed on the Amazon Echo, Google Home, or any other IoT speaker. Instead, AI assistants are living on server farms far away from your location while the actual piece of hardware you buy can only understands activation phrases such as "Ok, Google," record your voice, forward it to a server, and then recite an answer it receives from the server. That's it. Without an Internet connection, "smart" speakers are just speakers that record sound when being told to do so. In addition to making them look much less impressive, this realization also highlights another key fact about digital assistants – they aren't storing your data when you don't tell them to. For example, while the Amazon Echo will technically hear everything you say, it's not saving that information unless everything you said was preceded by the activation word "Alexa."

Furthermore, connected speakers also encrypt all of your data which gets sent to their servers, so the chance of someone hacking your home network and listening in on you is relatively negligible. Just in case you want to be extra safe, both the Amazon Echo and Google Home are equipped with physical mute buttons which disable their microphones. As for the data which gets recorded and uploaded by connected speakers, it's primarily used to personalize your digital assistant, i.e. help it answer your future queries in the context of other interests you've demonstrated in the past. Both Amazon and Google allow you to check your query history whenever you feel like it, while the latter even allows you to delete it and prevent Google Home from recording you. Unfortunately, if you choose to do so, Google Home will turn into a regular speaker and will have to remind you to activate activity tracking each and every time you ask it to do something.

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