Google Home

Alexa, Google Home and other virtual assistants: Ban these spies ASAP!

Not a week goes by without a spying scandal linked to various connected products (speakers or assistants) coming to light. Amazon, Google and other manufacturers are all in the same boat! This is the worst thing that can happen to your privacy…

You are permanently bugged!

This is a serious matter. These connected spies are selling like hotcakes everywhere with attractive advertising. But do you know the other side of the coin and the risks to your privacy? There are a few things you should be aware of before you bring a spy into your home…

The general conditions of use to be accepted are quite long and vague. The fact is that this type of speaker (like all other types of connected assistants by the way) constantly listens to the sound environment and that this data is sent to the manufacturers. It is also potentially listened to and analysed by a dedicated team (called “transcribers” at Google for example) or even by an AI in the process. All data of interest to locate or identify the user is carefully stored. Some private conversations inevitably reveal critical information that can be exploited!

Thus, in April, we learned via an investigation published on Bloomerg that the Echo speakers using Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant send voice recordings to teams of employees in charge of analysis. By “conversations” Amazon means not only direct exchanges with the devices but also background noise in the room!

Girl talking to Alexa

This month, the focus is on the Google Home, as we learn that thousands of employees are dedicated to voice analysis. These are real scandals, especially when you know that there is no information or warning for users who buy this kind of invasive equipment. And for good reason, it would be scary and these gadgets would literally become unsellable!

In the recent case involving Google, we learn that a certain volume of captured recordings contains sensitive private information: private conversations in the bedroom, conversations between parents and children or professional conversations with confidential data… Some discussions included elements on the health of users who asked their assistant for information by voice, thus allowing extrapolation on the general state of the user. No limits.

And don’t think that the data is anonymous! Indeed, each device communicates its unique serial number and the identifier of the registered user (name or e-mail). Geographical position can also be added through the Internet connection. Don’t think you’ll be saved by the European RGPD either… because according to the researchers’ findings, the records are well kept by Amazon and Google and not deletable with a click as some vendors would have you believe… business is business! Not to mention when “bugs” occur and personal data is accidentally shared with strangers… or the risk of hacking.

Data security and privacy is clearly not the concern of GAFAM. Their business model is not based on privacy and non-intrusion, it is in fact the opposite…

The case of spy smartphones

Let’s note that the latest smartphones are now equipped with intelligent voice assistants that also listen to you permanently if you do not deactivate them! This is Google Assistant (OK Google) for Android smartphones and Siri for Apple products.

Here is the procedure to deactivate Siri, here’s the procedure:

  • Go to Settings.
  • Scroll down, and select Siri.
  • Then, deactivate Siri, by pushing the slider to the left.
  • Finally, confirm this step by pressing “Turn off Siri”.

As for OK Google, here’s the procedure:

  • Open the Google application
  • Press “… More” at the bottom right of the screen to access the menu and then Settings
  • Select Voice from the list and turn everything off.

Finally, if you have a PC running Windows 10, you should know that you also have to fight to deactivate Cortana, which is deeply integrated and protected within the system: the use of a dedicated utility is mandatory to get out of it! We can mention Win10AntiTracking or Ultimate Windows Tweaker. The best thing to do is to remove all the bug services and telemetry! This site gives you a complete overview of the utilities and actions possible to clean the OS of various spies.

It also remains that connected objects are multiplying at great speed: connected TVs, connected watches, connected household appliances, connected locks, connected houses, connected cameras, connected light bulbs, connected thermostats, connected scales, connected sports bracelets, and even connected sex toys! Of course, the list is far, far from being exhaustive… it is high time to question the stakes and the dangers linked to these highly invasive objects