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Who’s Listening to Alexa?

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Are Amazon’s Echo (Alexa) and similar devices from Google and Facebook listening to you? Of course they are. It’s no secret that under the guise of “providing a personalized experience,” these AI-based assistants are eavesdropping on our conversations. If you’ve ever spoken to someone about a specific product only to see ads for it in your Facebook feed the next day, you’ve seen this in action.

Why should we care? And more to the point, what does this have to do with your business?

The first question is easy: a tech security company called Check Point reported in August that hackers might be able to access a user’s Alexa voice history and personal information, and even silently add or remove ‘skills’ on a user account. So if you’re using Alexa to pay bills or check balances, your personal financial information could be at risk.

In fairness, Amazon reports that Check Point made it aware of these flaws a few months ago, and that they have been corrected. And Check Point admits that there is no evidence of such hacking actually occurring. But …

Consider all your workers who used to be in the office, but are now working from home and having conversations involving your sensitive business information. How many of them have an Echo or Nest or Portal within earshot? Probably quite a few.

So perhaps it’s time for a company policy – or at least a series of strong suggestions – surrounding such devices and your WFH team. Consider these options:

  • Unplug it completely. The most surefire way to prevent eavesdropping.
  • Mute the mic. This allows the device to play music or news when appropriate, without listening in.
  • Delete voice recordings. Did you know that Alexa (for one) keeps a history of everything you say to her and uploads the recordings to Amazon’s servers for parsing? That’s bad enough even if no hackers are involved. Enable the setting in the app first, then tell Alexa to delete your recordings.
  • Close the eye. Fans of 2001: A Space Odyssey (“Open the pod bay doors, Hal”) may also want to use the privacy shutter on video-based devices, or just cover them with a towel. We don’t think Alexa is reading your lips, but you can’t be too safe.

In the grand scheme of threats to your data in a work-from-home environment, personal assistants may not be the biggest concern, but the fewer ears listening on your company’s private information, the better.

Questions about security issues for your Maryland business? Contact Hill Tech Solutions.

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