Is Alexa Worth the Privacy Risk?

With the new smart gadgets taking over the world by storm, one should always question not only the advantages these gadgets bring to our life’s , but also the disadvantages and privacy risks coming along with them. Now that probably all electronic devices in our homes are connected to the internet, privacy risks increase even further.

Credits: https://techxplore.com/news/2020-08-amazon-alexa-bug-exposed-voice.html

Back in 2014 Amazon has launched the Amazon Echo smart speakers which contained Alexa inside of it, these voice assistants built on Artificial Intelligence were rapidly adopted by households and became part of millions of people everyday life. By 2019 Amazon’s Alexa was taught far-field language recognition and was able to perform different kinds of task to ease the life of people by simply saying the wake word “Alexa”. (Walker, 2019)

Some of the most used commands and questions to Alexa by the owners are as following:

· To play the music

· To turn On/Off the lights

· To create reminders

· To shop (which was mostly done from Amazon services)

· What is the weather like today? (Weather forecasts)

· To get sport scores (mostly used by man)

Subsequently, this small gadget which is connected to the internet, and that has his microphone always “ON” performs all these simple tasks that people are capable of performing themselves, but however opt for Alexa.

So how does Alexa’s ecosystem work? “When you ask Alexa, “What’s the weather going to be like today,” the device records your voice. Then that recording is sent over the Internet to Amazon’s Alexa Voice Services which parses the recording into commands it understands. Then, the system sends the relevant output back to your device. When you ask about the weather, an audio file is sent back and Alexa tells you the weather forecast all without you having any idea there was any back and forth between systems. What that of course means is that if you lose internet connection Alexa is no longer working.” (Marr, 2018) Thus, your voice is always being recorded and Amazon has proven that, however they are saying that this feature is used only for further improvements of the machine, but is that actually true?

The disadvantages and privacy risks coming along with Alexa has grown and the risks include vulnerability to hackers, data security concerns, device wakes up without saying “Alexa”, it’s always listening and many other issues. Additionally, there are multiple examples we learned from the Case Study when Alexa sent out the conversation you were having at home to someone without your command.

Yes, Alexa may be proven to be less time consuming and useful when you need things to be immediately done while you are busy doing other work, but like any other gadget it has its own challenges and risks. From my perspective, while Alexa is being more of an entertainment rather than a household necessity, we as people who’s data privacy is already too much exposed should question is this additional gadget worth all that privacy risk?

References

Marr, B. (5 October 2018.). Forbes . Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/bernardmarr/2018/10/05/how-does-amazons-alexa-really-work/?sh=4c4657f71937

Walker, R. (2019). Alexa: A Pandora’s Box of Risks . Northwestern Kellogg , 3.