Virtual assistants are the new thing. Virtual assistants, in case you don’t know, are able to control other devices and perform an increasing number of actions at your simple request – no button-press is necessary! Two of the most popular virtual assistants available on the market are the Amazon Echo and the Google Home. According to a report last year by eMarketer, “Amazon’s Echo speaker [has] 70.6% of users. Meanwhile, Google Home [is trailing]l far behind with just 23.8% of the market.” While using voice assistants like the Google Home or Amazon Echo can be incredibly convenient, it is important to be aware of the information that you are sharing with these devices.
To help you maintain your privacy and security while using your voice assistant, we compiled a list of things to be aware of the next time you say, “Hey Google.”
Be Aware of What Information It Can Access
Beyond the usual internet search, there are many tasks (Amazon calls these “skills” for the Echo) that your voice assistant can perform, provided they have the information to do them. For instance, with your Google Home device, you can make a call, turn the TV on or off, or get an update about your day’s schedule. With the Amazon Echo, you can make calls to another Echo, set up reminders, or utilize various apps through voice control. There are many abilities and skills that each device can do, but to do each task, your device will require access to the corresponding information or device. For instance, if you want to make calls, set an appointment, or send a text, you’ll need to provide access to your contacts. If you want to be able to lock your doors or control your lights, you’ll need to connect those devices to your Amazon Echo or Google Home. Whatever devices or information sources you connect to your voice assistant, be sure that it is a device or information that you would not mind being accessible to anyone.
Enable Security Features
With this ever-increasing range of access to your information and home by the various voice assistants on the market today, it is important to realize that this information and control is accessible to any voice, not just your own. A careless visitor or would-be burglar can oftentimes gain access to credit card information and other sensitive information only by asking your Echo or Home device a question. Personal information and payment information should be carefully guarded when using these voice-activated technologies. For instance, the Echo has a setting to set up a PIN that needs to verified before you can make a purchase. This is only one example of the security features available that should be enabled if you are interested in protecting your privacy while using your voice assistant.
Where Are You Putting It?
In addition to setting up secure features like the Echo’s purchasing PIN, you may also want to consider the consequences of your device’s location. There are many examples of people tricking their Google Home and Amazon Echo devices by standing outside their home and activating it as it sat by a window or door. Be conscious of where you place your device and keep it away from your home’s entrances and exits. This will safeguard you against the possibility of a burglar (or mischievous prankster) telling your Echo or Home device to unlock your door or disable your home security system.
Turn it Off When You Are Not Using It
The voice assistant’s whole purpose is to wait quietly in the background for your commands, an ever-watchful student, ready to learn and perform for you. Because of its purpose, it may seem counterintuitive to turn off your voice assistant. However, when you know that you will not be using it – for example, at night, while you are sleeping – it is entirely within reason to turn it off.
Manage Your Recordings
Amazon and Google have both incorporated the settings to delete your recordings from the Echo and Home devices. This is especially helpful for you if you do not necessarily want to concern yourself with turning your voice assistant on and off throughout the day. Managing the security settings is another great way to make sure that you are not unintentionally saving sensitive medical or payment information.
Find Your Balance of Privacy and Convenience
Regardless of whether you use the Amazon Echo, Google Home, or any other voice assistant available on the market, it is essential to guard your information responsibly. Google and Amazon have both stated that they take care to protect their user’s privacy, but you’ll have no better advocate for your privacy and home security than yourself.