Smart Speakers and your privacy!

I did a webinar to AbilityNet volunteers tonight and some really very good and challenging questions were asked. It has sent me away to check out further the privacy that surrounds these devces and from this website I found some useful information. We need to give good privacy advice to our clients. I never knew that you could access vocie data these companies have on us? I will look into that further and get back here with another blog about it.

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Amazon Echo 

By default, Echo devices are designed to detect only your chosen wake word. No audio is stored or sent to the cloud unless the device detects the wake word (or Alexa is activated by pressing a button). You will know when Alexa is recording and sending your request because a blue light indicator appears or an audio tone sounds.

Where are the recordings stored and how are they secured?

All voice recordings streamed to the cloud are encrypted and securely stored on Amazon’s servers. All voice requests are associated with your Amazon account. This allows you to review your voice recordings, access other Amazon services, and helps Alexa give you a more personalized experience.

If the device has a camera, are any video recordings stored?

Video calling sends video to the cloud, Amazon says, but it is only streamed and never stored.

Can I be identified by my recordings?

Amazon says it associates requests with customers’ accounts to allow users to review their voice recordings and access other Amazon services. You can ask Alexa to read Kindle books or play audiobooks from Audible, for example. Whether this directly addresses our question is open to interpretation.

Who else is listening?

Amazon has a voice review and annotation program – comprised of Amazon employees and contractors –that analyzes a random sample of recordings to improve Alexa’s intelligence. Amazon says it annotates a fraction of 1% of interactions from a random set of customers.

Since the beginning of 2019, analysts transcribed 0.2% of all requests to Alexa. A typical Alexa recording averages 2 seconds. Annotators are subject to privacy agreements and Amazon says there is no direct access to information that can identify customers. Users can opt out of the review and annotation program via the Amazon website or the Alexa app.

Can a user access recordings and can they delete them? Do recordings auto-delete at any point?

Yes, you can review and delete all voice recordings associated with your account in the Alexa app or on the web. You can also enable voice activated deletion to remove your last request by saying, “Alexa, delete what I just said.”

Alternatively, all the voice recordings for a day can be deleted by saying, “Alexa, delete everything I said today.” When you delete a voice recording, Amazon also deletes any relevant transcript. There is also the option to setup auto-delete at either the 3 or 18-month marks via the Alexa Privacy Settings.

How long does Amazon keep customers’ voice recordings?

Amazon keeps recordings until customers choose to delete them.

How does the voice data benefit Amazon and customers?

As an artificial intelligence engine, Alexa is designed to learn. The more data Amazon can use to train these systems, the better Alexa works. Customer speech patterns, accents, dialects and vocabulary deepen Alexa’s knowledge. Your data also has value when it comes to advertising and marketing. Amazon will serve up personalized ads to you on its various properties based on the data it has about you. You can opt out of these in your Amazon account preferences.

The majority of Alexa interactions are not used for advertising, Amazon says. The experience on Alexa is similar to what you’d see on the Amazon website or Amazon app. For example, if you play a song on Alexa, you may see recommendations in the Amazon Music app for similar artists. Order paper towels via Alexa and you may see recommendations for similar products on the Amazon website.

Amazon says it doesn’t use other interactions with Alexa, like asking for a recipe or the weather, for product recommendations. Amazon does not allow advertising on Alexa outside of certain third-party skills, or apps, such as streaming radio skills like Pandora or news skills like CNN.

The more you use Alexa, the more it will adapt to your speech patterns, vocabulary and personal preferences. Alexa may make recommendations to customers based on their previous requests or skill usage.

Do third party apps/other properties owned by Amazon have access to data from voice recordings?

Amazon says it does not share voice recordings with any third parties. When you use a third-party service through Alexa, it exchanges related information with the third party – an email address to make a restaurant reservation, for example – but not actual voice recordings.

You can control which Alexa Skills have access to data in the app – head to Settings > Alexa Privacy > Manage Skill Permission or via the website.

What data does the Echo device collect, other than voice recordings?

In addition to voice recordings, Amazon says it collects other data necessary to provide and improve the service, such device usage and network diagnostics.

Google Assistant: Google Home speakers

In late September Google announced it had conducted a full review of systems and controls for the Google Assistant. “It’s clear that we fell short of our high standards in making it easy for you to understand how your data is used, and we apologize,” Google said.

The company has also taken steps to streamline privacy information available to users, with varying degrees of clarity. Here’s what the company that once embraced “Don’t be evil” as its motto does with your data.

What does the device record and when is it supposed to record?

Google Assistant sits in standby mode until it hears the wake words – “Hey Google” or “Okay Google.” On Google Home speakers you’ll see the four colored icons light up to indicate it’s listening, while on Google Smart Displays you’ll see an icon on the screen.

If you’re using a third-party speaker such as a Sonos One, you’ll hear a bleep and see an indicator light flash. It depends on what you’re using, but there should always be some audio or visual cue by default.

Where are the recordings stored and how are they secured? Can I be identified?

By default, Google doesn’t retain audio recordings. Customers can opt in to store audio data via the Voice & Audio Activity (VAA) settings. All voice recordings are encrypted and stored on Google’s servers. Google says it strips personal identifiers from voice recordings and instead attaches a unique number..

Okay, who else is listening?

Google paused the process of human transcription of audio recordings following widely reported privacy concerns. As part of the Assistant review process some recordings are shared with “language experts” who are tasked with analyzing voice data to improve the service. Google says that 0.2% of all audio recordings captured are listened to by reviewers.

If the device has a camera, are any video recordings stored?

Not with third-party cameras that work with Google Assistant, but for the company’s own Nest devices, video footage is stored in your Google account. You can access, review, and delete this footage – head here for more information on how.

Google’s Nest Hub Max smart display has a built-in camera, which will sometimes be used for Face Match, a tool for determining who is using the device. Google says that video will be sent from the device to its own servers during the setup process, but not beyond that.

What happens to recordings made by mistake? Are they still analyzed?

Google has taken steps to avoid a repeat of the blunder that saw more than 1,000 Assistant voice queries leaked by a contractor. Among them were 153 snippets that were clearly recorded by mistake.

Google says itis focusing on tackling the unintended activations or “false accepts” that the Google Assistant was apparently processing and have “a number of protections in place to prevent this from occurring.”

While these recordings aren’t directly linked to people’s identities, unintended voice recordings are more likely to contain sensitive information. Google says Assistant automatically deletes any recordings from unintended activations to ensure they don’t form part of the “expert review process.”

Can a user access recordings and can they delete them? Do they auto-delete at any point?

You can review voice recordings associated with your account and permanently delete past conversations at any time via ‘My Activity.’ Voice commands such as “Hey Google, delete this week’s activity” will also erase conversations. Auto-delete can be enabled at three or 18 monthly intervals. Here’s a full breakdown on how to delete your Google Assistant voice data.

How long does Google keep customers’ voice recordings?

Voice recordings are not kept by default, but for those who have opted in, recordings are kept until you choose to delete them.”

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