Amazon Echo became a sensation when it was originally launched in 2014. The small hands-free speaker is shaped like a cylinder and it is recognized for its versatility. You can use it to play music from your favorite online streaming services, but it also supports other functions that regular speakers can’t. For instance, you can ask Amazon Echo questions, use it for your online shopping, get access to news and weather forecast, and the device can also help you to keep track of your expenses. These are only a few of the things that you can do with Amazon Echo and its impressive voice recognition technology and support for cloud-based applications.
All you need to do to unlock the powerful functions supported by the Amazon Echo is to call out for Alexa, its voice assistant. Your query will be recorded by the Echo and uploaded to the cloud, where it will be analyzed. Then you will receive a relevant response. The technology is similar to Siri, but instead of relying on a mobile platform only, it focuses on helping you to complete a variety of tasks at home. Recently, Google released Google Home, which works in a similar way to the Echo. The main difference is that instead of sating “Hey, Alexa”, you have to say “Ok, Google” in order to activate the device.
Google Home also stands out for being available for a lower price and it can be synced with any device that is Google Cast enabled, including Android tablets and smartphones. Amazon Echo uses Bluetooth and it is a more practical solution for home automation. Amazon Echo and Google Home have advantages and disadvantages of their own, but regardless of the option you choose, there is one thing that you need to keep in mind. Both devices come with some privacy concerns so it is important to consider ways to protect yourself when using them. These devices can be incredibly practical, but the truth is that since they are constantly listening for commands, they can also become an issue for your privacy. Here are a few things to keep in mind:
- If the microphones are not physically muted, the microphones will be listening all the time.
- The voice assistants are not able to identify specific voices, It can’t recognize one voice from another.
- The voice recordings are uploaded and stored on cloud servers. The information collected through the recordings is analyzed to deliver responses, but it is also likely that it will be used to target you with tailored ads. In addition, your location is used to provide a customized experience.
- It is possible that the data collected is shared with third-parties without your knowledge.
Although there are reasons to be wary of the possible implications for your privacy when you use Google Home or Amazon Echo, it should be noted that these devices also come with some security measures aimed at protecting your data. For instance, all the interactions between the device and the cloud servers are encrypted, which means that others won’t be able to see them. However, the main concern when it comes to Amazon Echo and Google Home is not security, it is privacy. Amazon and Google are two of the most powerful tech companies in the world and they are very likely to work closely with government organizations who request them to share the data they hold.
Enhancing your privacy on Amazon Echo
Unfortunately, if you want to get the most out of Amazon Echo, you will need to sacrifice some privacy. That doesn’t mean that it is not possible to take some measures to make things a bit safer. In general, it is important to avoid saying anything compromising when you are around your Amazon Echo. Apart from that, you can do the below:
When you are not using the device, press the Mute button at the top to disable the “always listening” feature. This way, this function won’t get activated unless you physically unmute the Amazon Echo. It is also advisable to configure Alexa to give an end of request tone to inform you when it has stopped listening.
Using a web-based dashboard on the Manage my device page, you can delete your complete history or just specific queries. Although deleting old recordings would interfere in the accuracy of the results that Amazon Echo can deliver, it is an option that you can consider in order to protect your privacy.
Make sure that you don’t associate important accounts to Amazon Echo. While linking online accounts to the device sounds like a practical way to get instant access to important information, doing so can have a bad impact on your privacy. Any account that involves money and sensitive data should be kept beyond the Amazon Echo’s radar.
Although the above measures won’t prevent Amazon from collecting and analyzing your personal data, it will make things more difficult for Amazon and third-parties that try to profile users.
Google Home also collects data overtime to provide more relevant results faster. It is designed for convenience, but the price to pay is your privacy. Like Amazon Echo, Google Home has an “always listening” feature and collects personal data so it is important that you don’t discuss sensitive information near the device. The following tips will help you to make your Google Home experience more private.
- Use the touch panel at the top to mute the device when you are not using it. Doing this prevents it from recording unless it is physically activated. Check the LED lights and if they are on, it means that Google Home is listening.
- It is also worth noting that Google Home is also unable to recognize different voices. Although it may be listening, if you don’t say OK Google, which is the hotword, it won’t record and upload data to the cloud.
- Google stores all the data collected in the same place. In order to delete your conversation history and block some details including your location, you can go to My Activity settings in your Google account settings. Keep in mind that even if you delete your information, Google can still store data about you and how you use its products and services.
- Any online accounts that deal with money or sensitive data, should be kept beyond Google Home’s reach.
Voice assistants can be very practical, but they also come with many risk for privacy. While you can take some steps to make Google Home and Amazon Echo more private, it should be noted that whenever you use these devices, your data is needed and it may be compromised. If privacy is more important to you, the bets option is to stay away from this technology.