With the introduction of the newest voice-activated 5.8-inch employee, who plays music and places paper towel orders, we’ve become increasingly concerned that Alexa is recording our conversations. And our team is not alone. As more incidents of recorded conversations surface, many people are worried about the vulnerability of these devices. With 50 million Amazon Alexas sold as of August, we asked Koncerted LLC, a top-tier technology integration firm out of the Boston area, to either affirm or alleviate our worries.
Is Alexa recording our conversations?
The short answer is yes—to an extent—but it’s a little more complicated than that, explains Co-founder and CEO Blair Wallin and Director of Business Development, Sean Cote. When Alexa is on, it is always listening to its environment (so is Siri, for that matter), explains Cote. “Every two seconds Alexa is capturing a sound clip, determines if it heard ‘Alexa’ or the wake word, and then deletes the clip. Once the wake word is heard, Alexa starts recording and sends your interaction to the Amazon database.”
Why does Alexa record and store our conversations?
Firstly, tech giants are always looking for new methods of data collection. By understanding the questions and requests of their consumers, they have the ability to tailor their advertisements and understand their customers as a whole. Secondly, voice control is one of the latest forms of Artificial Intelligence. These AIs are built to analyze archived interactions in order to evolve. The more interactions they analyze, the more convenient our lives become.
The Koncerted team is less concerned with Amazon recording and storing data and more focused on how easily these devices can be hacked! Similar to Apple’s “Apple Store,” Amazon provides an “Amazon’s Skill Store” where applets can be added to your Alexa ecosystem. In the past, these skills have provided easy access for hackers to eavesdrop into conversations. This is no different than scanning laptops for malicious software that may have been downloaded from unknown sites. Although Amazon is working tirelessly to fix these flaws, it is important to understand what you or your children have downloaded onto your devices.
As thought leaders, Koncerted knew immediately this could be problematic for clients and thought at length of how to mitigate the risk. Wallin explains that their team is constantly on the lookout for new ways to protect their clients’ network. Devices like Ring, Amazon’s Alexa, Google Home and Apple Home Pod are convenient, but provide a surplus of gateways for hackers to enter your home. “We limit the amount of exposure our clients have by enhancing their wifi security. If someone wants to hack into your network, they’re going to do it,” says Wallin. Koncerted makes it harder for them. “It’s like physical security,” he continues, “if you have lights on, dead bolts and dogs, they’re likely to leave you alone and go rob your neighbor.”
Koncerted polled its employees for the purposes of this feature, and found that they were divided.
50 percent is comfortable with Amazon’s Alexa and loves it; the other 50 percent doesn’t want it in their home.
The key is to be aware of what your devices are capable of and then educate yourself or hire an expert to figure out what level of accessibility you want the internet to have to you. Clients also need to have an understanding of what to do with their devices, based on their comfort level. Because technologies change so quickly, most of the population has no idea how their devices work on the back end. Koncerted addresses the risk/reward dynamic during product selection and development and again after installation, when their Director of Experience walks clients through the settings of their custom network. Such measures—and insight—help keep Big Brother at bay. After all, “this is nothing new,” says Cote, “it’s just wearing a different costume.”