Archive for Internet of Things

Voice Activated Products and Privacy

Microphones in Voice Activated Devices in the Home

For some time now we have had smartphones which you can talk to and get a response from, for example, Apple’s ‘Hey Siri’ and Android’s ‘OK Google’ – both very useful gadgets and which can greatly speed up the time it takes to get information.

Now, with the advent of in-home products such as Amazon’s ‘Echo’, the use of voice-activated devices in the Home is set to increase dramatically, so it’s fair to ask – are there any privacy concerns and do they outweigh the benefits of having such a useful device?

On the one hand, having a device that you can ask questions of as well as giving commands to, is clearly useful but the fact remains that to achieve this, the Echo contains an array of sensitive microphones that picks up audio from anywhere within range – certainly anywhere in an average sized room.

Unless you specifically mute the microphones, they are in ‘always listening’ mode.

The Echo doesn’t understand or process such audio itself – it sends it over the internet to Amazon’s data centres, which do the hard work in a fraction of a second and sends it back to the Echo device to respond back to you. However, and even though the Echo does not respond without hearing the trigger ‘Alexa’, the microphones are still functioning.

Similarly, the camera in the new ‘Echo Look’ – a camera-enabled device pitched for use in your bedroom or bathroom to help you with fashion choices – can also be switched off, but also has a default ‘always on’ mode.

The main privacy concerns relate to two main issues – security of the device and storage of voice data.

Security of the Device

Whilst Amazon has world-leading security at its data centres, we all know that if a device is connected to the internet then there is no such thing as 100% security – either there is a chance (however small) that the device can be compromised by hacking, or the data going to and from it can be intercepted.

It was revealed that Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg covers the Webcam in his laptop with tape, as does a former FBI Director who calls it “sensible”, so how useful would audio information fetched directly from within your home, be to the wrong people?

Once your information is in the ‘Cloud’, then you have to accept that you no longer have 100% control of it.

Voice Data Storage

Like Apple’s Siri, previous Amazon Echo recordings are kept by Amazon in order to improve voice recognition accuracy, although you can delete them through your ‘Manage my Devices’ page (but this does mean that the Echo will not “learn” from your past interaction with it). If a device is storing at least some audio from within your home, you need to be aware that it is being stored somewhere else.

Also, bear in mind that you may accidentally use a similar word to one of the trigger words in general conversation, which means that it is possible that the device can actively detect what is being said without you even realising it.

What is clear is that the Echo is a useful device and will no doubt be the first of many interactive devices forming part of the ‘Internet of Things’, but also bear in mind that like much of the tech that we use on a daily basis, it is also a market profile data gathering device, in a similar way to smartphones. In fact, the company actually reserves the right to serve ads based on the data that the Echo receives from you, so don’t be surprised when one day you ask Alexa a question about something and you subsequently get ads related to what you have said to it.

The Echo and similar devices are now in the home, including in private areas, so we need to make an informed choice about what that tech can do for us, versus the possible issues and risks that such technology can bring with it. If you uneasy about ‘always on’ microphones then possibly such a device is not for you, but if you are aware of the risks, then you can make sure that you keep as much control as possible, e.g. use that mute button!

Share..Share on FacebookShare on Google+Tweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInPin on PinterestPrint this pageEmail this to someone

The Internet of Things

Internet of Things

Not too long ago, when you watched a TV programme or film that showed someone talking to a computer (and the computer answered back) it was just science fiction. Now it’s fact, just take Amazon Echo for example – one of a number of little gadgets just waiting for you to talk to it. Now, you can ‘talk’ to and control aspects of your home, wherever you are.

What is Internet of Things?

The I.T. world loves its jargon and you may have heard of the phrase ‘Internet of Things’ – this means an interconnected system of everyday devices controllable over the internet.

You arrive at home and the door unlocks because it knows who you are, sensing the key in your pocket. The lights switch themselves on and your favourite music begins to stream through the living area. The home is already the perfect temperature because you switched on the heating using your smartphone, and as you head for the fridge you notice an alert on the screen congratulating you on meeting your exercise goal today and suggesting a tasty snack.

This is actually reality today thanks to the Internet of Things (IoT), for example the ‘Hive’ service from the well-known energy company British Gas uses IoT technology. Almost anything that can be turned on or off is now able to be connected to the internet and an entire industry has popped up to help users create a custom experience designed around their unique needs.  Electronic locks, lights, healthcare wearables and household appliances are just the beginning.

Adapters can transform even the most random appliance into a connected gadget, as well as add new layers of functionality. Millions of people are wearing a Fitbit, Jawbone or other wearable fitness trackers to track steps and calories, while others are letting their fridge order groceries!

The practical applications are almost endless, including: GPS trackers on pets, home security via webcam, patient monitoring of blood pressure/heart rate, weather monitoring, and remote power points. No more worrying all day if you left the iron on, just push a button on your phone and know for sure it’s turned off.

Not everyone wants this interconnectivity, (such as their fridge telling them when to order milk – they may want it to be just a fridge) but the technology is there and is going to be built into more and more devices that you buy from the shops from now on.

With all this connectivity comes risks.

If your home devices are connected over the internet, they are open to internet risks just like everything else. While the idea of having your toaster hacked is a bit mind-boggling, technology connected to the internet is open to exploitation. The webcam that allows you to monitor your pets may also allow other people to glimpse inside your home, but only if it’s not secured properly. Unfortunately, it only takes one small gap for a cyber-attack to get through, and once in, all connected devices are at risk.

Having your lights taken over by a far-away prankster may seem like a small risk, but gaps allow them into your computers, phones and tablets too. That’s the part the movies skip over – the networking protections that exist in the background, shielding against attacks.

Taking the time to properly secure your IoT device is essential to making sure you get the whole, happy future-tech experience.

Got an IoT device? Give us a call at 01455 209505 to help you set it up securely.

Share..Share on FacebookShare on Google+Tweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInPin on PinterestPrint this pageEmail this to someone