Your Smart Devices Are Listening to You, SHOULD YOU BE CONCERNED?
Are you worried that devices like your Smartphone, Smart TV, Facebook, Google, Apple, are listening to your conversations? You certainly should be!
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Recently, people have shared many, many, many stories about people seeing ads on their devices for things they have ONLY ever discussed verbally.
My own recent experience convinced me. I was at a friend’s house, not mine. Our phones were on the counter, but supposedly asleep.
We were sharing which TV series were each binge-watching, she told me about Grace and Frankie on Netflix. I had NEVER heard of it and said it sounded interesting and would like to watch it.
When I went home, I turned on my Apple TV and turned on Netflix to watch a series I was in the middle of watching. On the screen, the first episode of Grace and Frankie was ready to play!!! I had not searched for it at all!
Today we are using our voices to control our smart TV, smartphones, smart speakers, and other devices, is what we’re saying also being used to collect information on us?
The Answer is: Yes, be concerned.
Due to increased numbers of smart devices, anything with a camera, microphone, and internet connection could be snooping on you, even as you read these words.
- It’s your Apple smartphone
- The fancy new Amazon Echo you love showing off to friends.
- It’s your Nest smart thermostat system.
- Your robot vac, your nanny cam, or your smart refrigerator.
- Even your impressive high-end Samsung TV could be a spy. (Clare Trapasso, realtor.com)
Facebook can find you on whatever device you’ve ever checked Facebook on. Furthermore, it can exploit everything that retailers know about you, and even sometimes track your in-store, cash-only purchases; that loyalty discount card is tied to a phone number or email for a reason. (Digg, Oct. 30, 2017)
Meanwhile, the industry insists it does not listen to you without your permission, that doesn’t mean it isn’t using a host of tools to figure out what will make you click.
Device Matching with Ultrasonic Sounds
This report really concerned me. Last year the CDT alerted The Federal Trade Commission to a technology called SilverPush. It uses audio beacons to track your activities across devices: Initially, your TV emits a tone during a commercial break, a tone that’s inaudible to you, but your phone is listening for it. As a result, they can link the TV and phone as belonging to the same person! Can you believe that?
Consequently, your location and viewing preferences are easily accessed.
Advertisers have developed lots of techniques for device-matching because the more accurately they can track your activities, the easier it is for them to advertise to you. It is not difficult to imagine other applications using this technology.
Any government interest in who you are meeting with could play a tone through the TV and effectively ping all the phones in the room, identifying the whole group. (Digital Trends).
Many people, especially parents are opting out of having smart assistants in their homes despite the conveniences it brings. I mean there is literally nothing Alexa can’t do and her skills are increasing!
The thing is, even if you don’t buy Alexa, chances are good you are going to buy an Alexa compatible device, like security cameras, temperature control, TV control, my dad even has a vacuum cleaner now that is compatible with Alexa!
I have shared before that we bought an Amazon Echo Plus for my dad who lives alone and he loves it. He asked me the other day why the blue ring spins when he hasn’t said anything?
Is there a command coming from his television? We know it awakes to the commands: “Alexa,” “Amazon,” “Computer,” or “Echo.” Just watching “The Price is Right” is going to trigger it!! He never misses The Price is Right or Jeopardy.
What can you do to protect yourself?
- Software updates are critical, as they address newly discovered security weaknesses. Again, this is less obvious on a fridge than it is on a desktop computer, but it’s no less important. So, go online to discover if your software is up to date. And always download new updates.
- Most of us never read or make sense of privacy policies, and if we do, they are not easy to understand.
- You can access what Google has recorded on your phone, including videos you have watched or Maps searches Sign into Google. Type: “history.google.com/history” into your browser. Click on Activity Controls to turn off access. Apple stores voice recording from Siri as well but don’t make them available to you.
Here are additional steps you can take right away to protect yourself.
Tip No. 1: Change your passwords
- It may sound obvious, but changing all of your passwords is your first line of defense. We are not talking about passwords on your phone or tablet. Unfortunately, most homeowners may not realize their smart appliances even have passwords. Printers, routers, TVs, security systems all need to be password protected.
- Look at your device’s manual, and find out if the product is, indeed, “password protected.” If so, go online and find out the process to change it.
Tip No. 2: Turn off Your Device Microphones
- Social apps are meant to collect data and make it public. Even though, Facebook claims it doesn’t listen, you still need to check. You should review the permissions you have granted to apps. On Android go to Settings > Privacy and safety>App permissions. On iOS go to Settings>Privacy. Both have a setting for a microphone, which will list all the apps that have access.
- In addition, turn off all you think might be suspicious, or apps that just don’t need access to your microphone. By following this advice I found I had given YouTube and a couple of games access to my microphone. Watch for requests to have access to your microphone from apps- say no.
Tip No. 3: Cover your cameras on all devices
- Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg puts a piece of tape over the camera and microphone jack on his laptop, and recently James Comey also admitted he has tape over the camera on his laptop as well! Now we should too!! Don’t forget to cover the cameras on the devices your kids are using!
- The tape prevents hackers, government or otherwise, from listening in or watching you remotely. A piece of tape is an easy and inexpensive way to protect our privacy!
Tip No. 4: Turn off Wifi on Devices When They’re Not in Use
- Why do I have my Smart TV connected to wifi when I never use the apps? What about your soundbar and your awesome speakers? Shockingly Smart TVs do collect data for ads and are a source of entry for hackers as well. Disconnecting from wifi to ensure your protection.
- Smart home devices like security cameras, washing machines, vacuum cleaners, nanny cams should be disconnected from the internet or unplugged when not in use.
- Unplugging is another option. For the most part, devices can’t spy on you if they’re not plugged in. So do more than just shut down your smart TV or laptop when you’re not around, experts say, disconnect it entirely from its power source.
TIP NO.5: TURN OFF VOICE ACTIVATION
- Turn off voice activation for “Hey Siri “and “Ok Google.” You will still be able to access both from your home button, and you can still voice activate Siri to call 91with your voice.
- To disable “Hey Siri:” Navigate to your iOS device’s Settings > General > Siri, then toggle Allow “Hey Siri” to off. Siri’s listening range is amazing.
- For the”Ok Google” wake phrase, just go to Settings > Google> Search & Now > Voice and turn “Ok Google” detection off.
- As for your speakers, on Amazon Echo or Google Home, mute the speaker by pressing a button on the top or back of the device, while with HomePod you can ask Siri to mute the speaker (or use the app to disable it).
TIP NO. 6: DO NOT USE PUBLIC OR FREE WI-FI
- “ When you’re using a free service, you are paying for it your information, but the trade-off we’re making is really unclear to most people. The content we see reflects that data that has been collected on us.” ( Michelle de Mooy, Acting Director of CDT)
- A technology guru recently shared with me that using public Wi-Fi is almost like willingly turning your personal information over to hackers. We often think we can use public Wi-Fi to quickly check social media or our email. Anti-virus protection and firewalls are useless against hackers on unsecured Wi-Fi networks.
Keep In Mind
Our devices are not going away, nor would I want them to. I love all my devices and what they have to offer. I would never consider giving any of them up. However, I can be better at having more control over what my smart devices have access to.
I enjoy that I can make calls, text, connect with family and friends, have access to “intelligent assistants”. Even more, we set reminders, control our calendars, enjoy apps and play games.
Before purchasing a Smart Assistant for your home, read the review: Features Should You Consider Before Purchasing a Smart Assistant.
Is there such a thing as ‘the right to privacy?” Many will argue that is what the 4th amendment is saying. I guess it is a matter of interpretation.
P.S. Let’s face it, technology is not going to get less sophisticated and most of the time is for good reasons. However, we need to stay diligent and know what we are risking when we opt-in to all the features of our new devices.
Don’t forget to download your Free Protection Checklist to start making changes right away.