This story is from the 2017 Access FYI: How Young Innovators Are Connecting the World. Explore more from this issue

Home Smart Home: Where Walls Have Ears

What happens with the information digital personal assistants hear?

March 2017


We’ve not yet come to find ourselves in romantic relationships with our computer operating systems or personal tech devices. But with Amazon’s Alexa and Google Home, we’re one step closer. With simple verbal commands, they not only answer questions about the weather and order you a Lyft, but they also control smart devices like thermostats and door locks.

Voice-activated virtual assistants aren’t new. Apple introduced Siri in 2011, and Microsoft’s Cortana has been around since 2014. Although they weren’t originally designed to always listen, subsequent updates allow them to do just that.

For those who already share their personal data with Google and Amazon, voice recording likely won’t raise any privacy concerns. Amazon Echo, Echo Dot and Google Home also offer ways to delete voice recordings and interaction logs. But with hacking incidents and tests of privacy laws, questions of how to balance the convenience of always-connected technology with data security will continue.

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