Should You Be Concerned?
Are you concerned that your Smartphone, Smart TV, Facebook, Google, Apple and other devices and software are listening to your conversations? If you are, you are in good company.
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. 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 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.
With the rise 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 7 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 beloved 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. 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)
While 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.
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: Your TV emits a tone during a commercial break, a tone that’s inaudible to you, but your phone is listening for it. Now they can link the TV and phone as belonging to the same person! Can you believe that?
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 for 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).
What can you do to protect yourself?
- Social apps are meant to collect data and make it public. Watch for requests to have access to your microphone from apps. You should also 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. Turn off all you think might be suspicious.
- 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).
- 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. Many homeowners may not realize their smart appliances even have passwords.
- 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: Update your software
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.
- Go online to discover if your software is up to date. And always download new updates.
Tip No. 3: Cover your cameras and turn off voice automation
Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg puts a piece of tape over the camera and microphone jack on his laptop—and you should, too.
- The tape prevents hackers, government or otherwise, from listening in or watching you remotely. Tape “is a very practical defense,” she says. Cheap, too!
Tip No. 4: Unplug devices when they’re not in use
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.
Keep In Mind
“ 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)
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”. We set reminders, control our calendars, enjoy apps and play games.
Another technology safety topic to talk about is Features Should You Consider Before Purchasing a Smart Assistant.
Please let me know which tip you found the most interesting or helpful.