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Are smart speakers recording your private conversations?

At a time when our digital assistants are talking to us in our homes and offices like never before, privacy has become a concern for users. Are smart speakers like Alexa, Siri, Google Assistant, and Cortana listening and recording our personal conversations?

There have been many cases that have led to this concern. For instance, a person in Germany using the Amazon Echo device received 1700 audio files from a person he never met.


Does any research study prove this?

David Choffnes, an associate professor of Computer Sciences at Northeastern University, conducted a research study to get an insight into this. The study reveals how often smart speakers are recording and sending audio clips without the user’s permission. The inner workings of these devices are proprietary information. Therefore, the researchers tested them by watching as they listened to a lot of conversations.

They set up different smart speakers with an ultimate binge-watch of 134 hours from a dozen of popular Netflix shows. A video of the scene tracked activations based on each speaker’s indicator light. This light was matched with router traffic, which indicated that the recordings were being sent over the internet. TV shows provided a greater diversity of speakers for a variety of ages, accents, and languages. The devices misactivated more frequently for languages other than American English. There are a lot of cases when these devices wake up due to random things that cannot be accurately traced. Therefore, it is a matter of concern if you want to make sure that they are not recording when they shouldn’t.

Don’t forget that these devices can wake up accidentally. And these recordings can be further processed and sent to a faraway server. As with any internet-enabled technology, there are privacy considerations, no matter how much control you have. So, take steps to protect your privacy and always remember that a gadget might be listening.


Kriti Vishwakarma