Friday, February 21, 2020

Only way to stop Amazon Alexa recording you at home is to BIN it, experts warn

IF you don't want Alexa to record private conversations in your home then you shouldn't have one.

That's the verdict from cyber-experts who say the only way to truly keep your audio out of Amazon's hands is by ridding your home of Alexa.

Amazon Echo speakers are an amazing gadget that can make your home life easier and more interesting.

But the price you pay is privacy: Amazon stores your Alexa recordings, and sometimes sends those voice clips off to humans.

This creates a privacy nightmare, as these conversations can be private – mistakenly picked up by Alexa.

"If you don't want to be recorded, don't buy one – it’s as simple as that," said cyber-expert Keith Geragthy, of edgescan, speaking to The Sun.

"We don’t realise how often we discuss sensitive information out loud.

"Remember that it is likely multiple devices in a modern home environment that are recording, not just your Alexa speaker."

Earlier this week, an ex-Amazon exec admitted that workers do listen to your conversations through Alexa.

And he said he turns his Alexa speaker off when he wants to have a "private moment".

You can turn this "human grading" off in your settings, and even delete your recordings – but the audio is still saved in the first instance.

Sadly, the only way to stop that is to bin Alexa completely.

"While it may seem like Alexa or Google Home is in your house, all of the data you share with that device is transmitted to the cloud, and specifically to Amazon or Google," Paul Norris, a cyber-expert at Tripwire, told The Sun.

"The easiest way to avoid these risks is simply not to buy the devices."

He added: "It is of course good housekeeping to delete old recordings."

One option for paranoid users it to keep your Alexa microphone switched off except when you're using it.

The microphone button on your Alexa physically disconnects the mic from the electronics, locking the system down completely.

Turning the microphone off – is it just too hard?

Here's what cyber-expert Tim Mackey, of Synopsys, told The Sun…

  • "While users of voice activated devices appreciate the convenience they provide, those same users rarely think of the potential security issues associated with persistent recordings.
  • "This is due in large part to the convenience factor provided by the devices.
  • "Assuming a device has a manual off switch for its microphone, that will only be effective protection for voice recordings, but will require the user to manually enable the microphone as required.
  • "Eventually the self-imposed usability speed bump will become sufficiently inconvenient with the result the microphone remains on indefinitely."

But that takes away the speaker's ease of use – rendering it largely pointless.

"Chances are that many users will forget to turn it off again," said Hugo van den Toorn, a cybersecurity expert at Outpost24.

"This is the classic trade-off of usability vs security/privacy.

"If you want to limit the potential (over)exposure of your data, it means that the product will be less user-friendly.

"In this case, enabling and disabling a microphone, which is actually marketed and developed as a device that is always-on.

"Like a butler you can – at any time – make any request. So is it worth keeping the microphone off by default?

"For some privacy minded users it might, for the majority of users it will likely just be cumbersome."

If you want to boost your Amazon Echo privacy, read our Alexa settings guide now.

In other news, we reveal the best Alexa tips and tricks.

A terrified mum says her Amazon Echo speaker urged her to kill herself.

And Amazon recently launched an Alexa ring and a smart oven.

Do you trust Amazon to properly protect your privacy? Let us know in the comments!

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