VPNOverview’s cybersecurity experts investigated the privacy risks associated with owning a smart speaker and what you should do to protect your privacy.

Divyanshi Sharma

New Delhi,UPDATED: January 24, 2023 5:01 PM IST

By Divyanshi Sharma: Smart devices make life super convenient and let you take care of a lot of things with just the click of a button. From our phones to televisions to watches, almost every electronic device these days is capable of performing a number of tasks. Many households also use smart speakers, which can be controlled remotely with your voice. All you have to do is start with a voice command and ask it to perform the task you want. From dimming the lights to answering or declining phone calls on your behalf, there’s a lot that can be done with smart speakers. However, these conveniences might come at a much higher cost than one might imagine – their privacy.

VPNOverview’s cybersecurity experts investigated the privacy risks associated with owning a smart speaker and what you should do to protect your privacy.

Smart speakers are always listening

First, these speakers are always on because they have to wait for the audio control to activate their operations. So, sometimes the smart speaker may misinterpret certain words or phrases and take action based on them. This can lead to annoying messages/calls, buying unwanted items, performing unnecessary actions, etc. In order to prevent this from happening, cybersecurity experts suggest to always mute the microphone. You can manually mute your speaker’s microphone.

You also have the option to change the speaker’s “wake word”, which is the word used to call the speaker into action (example Ok Google, Hey Siri, Alexa, etc.). If you change the wake word to something unusual, the risk of the speaker misinterpreting your words will be reduced.

Record everything you say

Did you know that once you call your smart speaker, it records everything and saves it in its database? This happens so that the functionality of the device can be improved. To keep your data safe, you can use the in-app settings of a smart speaker and change how your data is used.

Third-Party Software Risks

There is a common misconception that when users interact with their smart speaker, their data is only collected by the proprietary developers (Amazon/Google/Apple etc.). In fact, some of the speaker commands and skills are actually created by third-party developers, which can pose major threats, as some of these third-party developers are not “fully moderated”, compared to the skills provided by the manufacturer . Therefore, it can become a gateway for hackers, leading to information leaks, as well as potential eavesdropping,” the experts say. One way to avoid this risk is to ensure that you only use skills and software offered by proprietary developers. Using a VPN to add a layer of protection can also be considered.

May lead to unwanted purchases

Amazon Alexa has made life super easy for some people as they can use it to buy groceries, household items and so on. However, anyone can use your smart speaker to make purchases that may result in a money deduction. To prevent this from happening, enable two-factor authorization or two-step verification on your device so that in order to make a purchase, it will require a code that will be sent to your phone.

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