Smart devices: Is your digital assistant listening to your private conversations?
Apple has apologized for allowing its partners to listen in on Siri private recordings of its user’s conversations.
The company says third party contractors have been listening to recordings to monitor its voice assistant smart speaker, but occasionally have heard people having sex, talking about selling drugs and discussing private medical information.
“We realize we haven’t been fully living up to our high ideals, and for that we apologize,” Apple said in a statement.
Many people like using their digital assistants from all three major companies—Apple, Google and Amazon—but they may not know the devices can be activated accidentally and may be recording them without their knowledge.
Eric Rhee and his family loved their first smart speaker, so much they bought four more.
“You always think that big brother is watching you, with you know cameras, obviously big brother is now listening to you too," Rhee said.
When it comes to how these connected devices work, Rhee has some concerns, especially when it comes to the privacy of his two young daughters.
“I’m concerned down the line when they start having conversations with friends and those conversations get recorded. I wonder if that somehow impacts their privacy," Rhee added.
Amazon, Apple and Google all say they take steps to protect their users privacy, but all three companies also confirmed to Consumer Reports they have teams listening to recordings of people using their voice-commands.
“Companies like Amazon and Google have a ton of consumer data, and they're using that data to make their products better, constantly working to improve their AI by having both people listen to the recordings and also through machine learning and technology,” said Bree Fowler, a technology editor with Consumer Reports.
The companies say they use those recordings to improve how their smart speakers work. So, what should you do if you're one of the millions of people who own a smart speaker?
“If you turn off those speakers when you're not using them, you don't have to worry as much, but you can also go through and just spot check your recordings and if you hear something you don't want them to hear, you can delete it," Bree said.
Altering privacy settings may impact the functionality of a smart device.
As for Rhee, he says he will continue to enjoy his smart speakers, but will make some changes to protect his privacy.
Amazon said earlier this year it will have new controls to allow users to delete their conversations off Alexa. Apple says it will now only allow its employees to review audio recordings and not third party contractors.