Here are five examples of how Alexa invades your privacy. If they seem outrageous, it is because they are, but you can adopt certain measures to mitigate risk.
1. Always on, listening, and watching
One of the most memorable scenes in “2001” involves a revelation made by HAL 9000: the supercomputer became aware that two astronauts were plotting to disconnect it. The astronauts knew that HAL would listen to their conversation, so they went to a section of the station without microphones. Unfortunately, HAL’s camera could see their lips moving.
For the record, Alexa speakers are always listening for the wake word. Once it hears the word ‘Alexa’, it starts transmitting to the Amazon cloud where the request is analysed and actioned. Amazon assures us it deletes conversations that do not contain “Alexa” from the cloud, but it stores all requests.
But the Amazon Alexa Echo Look also features a camera, and the Amazon Cloud has facial, sentiment, age/race estimate, fashion recommendations, and emotion recognition as stock APIs that its developers use. You can read “Nine reasons not to buy Alexa Look here.
If you want privacy, disable cameras and microphones until you need them – and hopefully, you don’t have an intimate Bestie named Alexa.
Alexa just became more HAL-like.
2. Amazon keeps a record of your conversations
Amazon is more than just an e-commerce giant. It is also a technology company looking to improve its AI analytics engine by various means, including the conversations held with Alexa.
It has recently been caught using its staff to analyse recorded conversations, “To improve the voice recognition service.”
Privacy-conscious individuals must become familiar with how Amazon stores voice recordings and transcripts. Learn about how you can manage them through a deletion process.
If you are concerned or have sensitive discussions, turn Alexa off or better still place it over five metres (limit of most far-field mics) from where you normally talk.
3. Falling into Amazon’s eCommerce rabbit hole
This is perhaps the scariest thing in selecting Alexa over other voice assistants. As we showed earlier Alexa focuses on selling you things that Amazon thinks you need. Amazon has built this understanding of you by constructing a profile on you.
One has to ask why Amazon – an online shopping behemoth, is interested in the smart home automation niche? Your data is gold. Never forget that this is a company that makes lots of money by selling you their products. If anything, Alexa is first and foremost a shopping assistant.
In fact, one of its earliest, non-speaking versions was a browser extension that monitored your online search and shopping sessions solely to sell you more stuff.
That ultra-pleasant voice may hide a more sinister side. Our recommendation is not to use Alexa for any online purchases – no matter how lazy you are when ordering Dominos pizza during the footy.
4. Alexa as an advertising platform
Alexa is a very smart shopping assistant. She can not only facilitate your purchase but also steer you to brands that have partnerships with Amazon. To be blunt, Alexa recommends what Amazon makes the most money from, not what is best for you, cheapest etc.
This may not be obvious at first, at least not until you start paying attention to what Alexa returns as search query results.